Snowmelt fuels rash of deaths in West
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. - The deaths of three young tourists who were swept over a 317-foot waterfall this week in Yosemite National Park serve as a reminder of the deadly and alluring beauty of the raging rivers and streams across the West after a record winter snowfall.
As temperatures rise, the melting snow has engorged waterways, causing flooding and sometimes tragic consequences. Some states have seen an increase in water-related deaths that they blame on the surge in river flows.
Witnesses to the Yosemite tragedy described the traumatizing image of a young woman slipping on a rock above the raging Vernal Fall and two friends falling while trying to save her.
In an instant, a church photo opportunity turned horrific beyond description as the frigid Merced River, swollen by snowmelt, swept the trio over the edge Tuesday.
“I can’t talk about what happened there,’’ Tanya Badal, a sister of one of the victims, said before breaking into sobs Wednesday.
Across the West, rafters, kayakers, swimmers and even some drivers have lost their lives in recent weeks due to fast-moving water.
In Montana, at least 10 people have drowned this year and another man is missing and presumed drowned after trying to retrieve an oar that fell out of his raft Sunday. Only three people drowned in 2010, and Montana officials are warning that the difference is the volume of fast and cold water from the melting snowpack and spring rains.
At least 11 people have drowned in Utah waterways since April, many of them swept away in fast-flowing rivers swollen by melting snowpack. The deaths included a 15-year-old boy who drowned in a swollen river near Zion National Park in June while swimming with friends who were swept over a waterfall.
Five people have died after being swept into Colorado’s raging rivers and creeks. One of them, a Kansas woman, drowned June 22 after rolling her vehicle into a river.