Fallout from this week’s torrential rain continued Wednesday, as a kayaker found two men’s bodies in a partially submerged truck in Sycamore Creek, and rushing water tore at the earth holding up a bridge just north of Mesa.
Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies were waiting for the fast-moving water to recede so they could recover and identify the bodies near the Bushnell Tanks exit of state Route 87, about 30 miles north of Fountain Hills.
"It’s just too dangerous to deploy divers right now, too," sheriff’s Sgt. Travis Anglin said. "This is clearly a recovery mission and not a rescue, and we don’t want to risk lives on a recovery mission."
The sheriff’s office has received no missing-persons reports for the area, and deputies were unable to see the license plate of the truck because of the water, he added.
The Bushnell Tanks area is also where Boy Scouts Jared Dirvonas, 12, of Gilbert, Scott Zimmerman, 11, of Chandler and troop leader Dean Alexander, 38, of Chandler, drowned when their Ford Explorer became stuck and then rolled over in a rainswollen wash in 1998 — the last year the Valley saw above-normal rainfall.
At the Alma School Road bridge near Loop 202, the Salt River’s muddy waters washed out embankments, forcing officials to close the crossing at noon for an indefinite period.
"We noticed there was substantially more distress than we anticipated, and so we decided to shut the bridge down," said Mike Ellegood, Maricopa County’s transportation director.
The 25-year-old bridge was threatened by whirlpools that formed at the piers, where rapidly moving sand and debris washed away the earth. Engineers feared the piers could tumble if enough earth washed away.
Though it sounds serious, it could prove an easy thing to fix, Ellegood said, because the 936-foot bridge has 16 independent spans. Damage to one span won’t affect other sections, so the majority of the bridge would likely survive.
But engineers will have to wait until the Salt River dries up to fully understand the damage. The county may consider replacing the bridge if damage is severe enough, Ellegood said.
The water also collapsed two Salt River Project power poles where the bridge was closed.
SRP spokesman Scott Harelson said the poles carried two lines with 12,000 volts of electricity running through each. He said no injuries or major power outages were reported.
Crews working in the area planned to have a new structure installed by today, he added.
SRP decreased water releases from Bartlett Dam to 5,000 cubic feet per second Wednesday, Harelson said. The release was at 25,000 cfs Tuesday. But water still rushed at the Alma School bridge at about 12,000 cfs Wednesday and would take a while to calm down, he added.
Weather warnings are in effect as more winter storms are expected Friday and Sunday, said David Runyan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Phoenix. The service’s forecast showed a 60 percent chance of rain for the East Valley on Friday night.
The Sunday storm could linger through Tuesday, bringing a 30 percent to 40 percent chance of rain for early next week, according to the weather service. It could be much stronger than Friday’s storm, but it’s still early to say, Runyan said. The forecast shows high temperatures remaining in the 50s for both storms.
With the coming storms, authorities reminded people to steer clear of water when driving.
"People need to remember cars aren’t flotation devices," said Julie Syrmopoulos, spokeswoman for Maricopa County Department of Transportation.
The body of a man who was swept away by the flooding Tonto Creek has been identified as Timothy Thibodeau, 54, of Punkin Center. Gila County sheriff’s deputies are still searching for another man who was trying to cross the swollen river with Thibodeau on a backhoe.
Apache 94% Bartlett 77% Canyon 98% Horseshoe 63% Roosevelt 39% Saquaro 95% Total Salt River Basin 49% Total Verde River Basin 71%
Figures are in cubic feet per second. One cubic foot of water is about 7.5 gallons
Salt River at 287 21,100 Roosevelt Verde River 309 12,500 above Horseshoe
Bartlett Lake 385 8,490
Stewart Mtn. 8 1,900 (Saguaro Lake)
SOURCES: SRP; Department of Agriculture TRIBUNE