Members of the Tonto Rim Search and Rescue Team comb the muddy East Verde River near the entrance to the First Crossing recreation area during the search and rescue operation for a victim in a flash flood Monday, July 17, 2017, in Payson, Ariz. The bodies of several children and adults have been found after Saturday's flash flooding poured over a popular swimming area in the Tonto National Forest. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Search stopped for day for Arizona man missing after flood

July 19, 2017 - 6:59 pm

PHOENIX (AP) — The search has again been called off for the day for the body of a 27-year-old Arizona man who remains missing after a flash flood last weekend that killed nine other relatives, a spokeswoman for the operation said Wednesday.

Tiffany Davila, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Forestry and Wildfire Management said the 125 people now searching for Hector Miguel Garnica were called to stop again at around 1 p.m. Wednesday when the National Weather Service advised that bad weather was moving into the area. The weather forced searchers to stop the previous two days as well.

Davila said that before the search was called off, several search and rescue dogs trained to search for human bodies indicated they had hit on scents. Crews with equipment designed to dig by hand went to work breaking up clumps of debris made up of mud, muck and huge tree branches going down eight to 10 feet deep, she said. A drone was also helping search in the area.

Before they were called off on Wednesday, searchers on the scene estimated it would take another two days to get through the debris.

Davila says Garnica's relatives were at the search site on Wednesday and bringing water to the workers.

The search was to resume early Thursday.

"We want to find the victim and bring him back to his family," Davila said.

Relatives earlier Wednesday announced funeral services would be held early next week for their loved ones who died in the flood.

Jakki Moss, a manager with the local family-owned Messinger Mortuary, said visitation for the victims will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. A funeral Mass for the group is set for 11 a.m. Tuesday at the church, she said.

The victims were swept away Saturday in a thunderstorm-produced flash flood that roared through a popular swimming hole along the river in the Tonto National Forest in central Arizona.

Garnica's wife, Maria Raya-Garcia, their three small children, his mother-in-law, sister-in-law and other relatives were killed in the flood. The group had gathered to celebrate Maria Raya-Garcia's birthday.

In recent days, searches have included divers probing ponds of standing water along the river and forestry crews using saws to cut up tree limbs to allow other searchers to dig and check under rocks and deep piles of debris.

As the search for Garnica continues, questions have arisen about whether the government should or could have done more to warn the public about the dangers of floodwaters in wilderness areas.

Officials have said members of the extended family who died in the flood had no warning about the approaching surge of water.

There is no system currently in place to specifically warn people about the potential dangers of flash floods at the Tonto National Forest.

Just four of the 14 members of the extended family gathered at the swimming hole were rescued after the flood.

One was Acis Raiden Garcia, Garnica's 8-year-old nephew from Flagstaff, who told news media this week that he's trying to find the stranger who swept him to safety. The mystery man has been described as a middle-aged Caucasian man with a white beard and salt-and-pepper hair.

The boy and his father, 29-year-old Julio Garcia, his father's wife, 28-year-old Esthela Atondo, and the couple's 1-year-old daughter, Marina Garcia, were the only ones to survive.

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