HILDALE – In the wake of Monday’s devastating flash flooding that has, so far, left 18 people dead, the search continues for a 6-year-old boy who remains unaccounted for in the Hildale area.
Hildale Mayor Philip Barlow confirmed Wednesday that Tyson Lucas Black, 6, remains the last of 13 people originally listed as missing following the flash flood that swept away an SUV and van occupied by the child and 15 others Monday.
In the SUV with Tyson were four of his siblings and their mother, Della Black. Della Black and two of her children are confirmed deceased. Two boys from the SUV survived the incident.
Della Black is the sister of Josephine Jessop and Naomi Jessop, who, along with a combined eight of their children, were in the van, which was also taken by the flood waters. All occupants of the van are accounted for, with only one son from the van surviving.
The children involved in the incident range from ages 4 to 11. Their names have not yet been disclosed to the public.
Sisters Josephine and Noami Jessop are married to Joseph Jessop, who addressed the media with a prepared statement during a press briefing Wednesday morning. He thanked the community for its outpouring of support during an incredible time of grief.
“We express our sincere gratitude for the kindness and assistance at this inexplicable time of sorrow,” he said.
He also recounted how his family survived government raids on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints compound in Texas in 2008 and also survived losing their home due to court evictions of homes owned by the United Effort Plan Trust.
“Now, in an instant, our families are gone,” Joseph Jessop said. “We appreciate the sympathy and consideration we have been given.”
Heavy rains hit the Short Creek area Monday around 5 p.m. As a result, several streets flooded and area waterways swelled with flood waters. One of them was Short Creek in Water Canyon, where a flash flood engulfed the two vehicles with what officials described as a “wall of water.”
During the flooding, a group of people in their vehicles stopped to watch the flooding along Short Creek in Water Canyon, Mayor Barlow said. They were well outside of the flooding area, but it wasn’t enough to keep them safe.
“Witnesses said they saw a huge flash flood coming down,” the mayor said, adding the people watching the flood had no idea what was coming. “It was basically a wall of water that came down and … just engulfed the vehicles.”
Both the SUV and van the Jessop and Black families had occupied were located Tuesday. Each vehicle was decimated, and the van was ripped apart.
The aftermath of the flooding left many Hildale streets covered in mud and debris. The flash flood also carved out areas of the surrounding landscape as it tore through the area. Power was additionally knocked out to many homes, and local water resources were disrupted.
As a result of the flooding, a boil water advisory was issued Tuesday evening as a preventative measure for the communities of Hildale and Colorado City.
“This is one of the worst weather-related disasters in the history of the state of Utah, and because of that, we’re bringing the full resources of the state to bear,” Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said Tuesday while visiting Hildale and touring the devastation.
Cox announced that Gov. Gary Herbert had mobilized the Utah National Guard to aid in search and cleanup efforts. Members of the National Guard and other state resources started arriving that afternoon.
Multiple agencies, ranging from the local to the federal level and volunteer search and rescue groups, descended on Hildale following the flooding. Among those groups is Utah Task Force 1, which was described as the “premiere search and rescue organization in the state” by Joe Doherty, of the Utah Division of Emergency Management.
“I couldn’t do this if it weren’t for the help of the community and the other counties and agencies, fire departments and EMS,” Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher said. “Everybody’s just calling and asking: ‘What can we do to help? What do you need?’ It is just completely amazing.”
Before the arrival of the National Guard and other state resources, Pulsipher estimated as many as 650 people were involved in the various efforts surrounding the fatal Hildale flooding.
“The state and county officials have been here on the ground, and the support has been outstanding,” Hildale resident Dee Barlow said.
Hildale and Colorado City were not the only places that experienced fatal flash flooding in Washington County Monday. In Zion National Park, a group of seven canyoneers who entered Keyhole Canyon were swept up in floodwaters
The bodies of six of the canyoneers have since been found. The seventh canyoneer remains missing as of Wednesday.
In all, the storm front that triggered the flash flooding has thus far claimed the lives of 18 people.
A memorial fund has been established at the Mountain America Credit Union in the name of the flood victims. Details are provided detail via the Washington County Emergency Services’ Facebook page.
St. George News Assistant Editors Cami Cox Jim and Kimberly Scott contributed to this report.
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