Funerals Held for Victims of Flash Flood in Arizona

Hearses of the family members who were killed in a flash flood are parked outside St. Patrick church, Tuesday, July 25, 2017, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Ten members of an extended Arizona family were killed earlier this month in flash flood while they celebrated a birthday are being remembered as hard-working immigrants from Mexico trying to provide a better life for their children. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The 10 white caskets belonging to three generations of a Mexican immigrant family were arranged in a horseshoe around the altar at a Catholic church, each one bearing a metal crucifix inside its satin-lined lid.

They died together in mere seconds when a dark torrent of water rushed through the placid swimming hole in central Arizona where they were celebrating a family birthday on July 15, killing a grandmother, aunts and uncles, children and grandchildren.

Scores of people will remember them at a funeral Mass on Tuesday. Mourners at the victims’ visitation a day earlier stopped and prayed by the caskets as a loop of photos was shown on large screens throughout the sanctuary: children under a Christmas tree, a new baby in a crib, a little girl kissing her mother.

Framed photos of the family members sat on long tables just inside the church entrance alongside some of the smallest victims’ favorite toys: a Minnie Mouse doll, a small plastic horse, a soccer ball, a race car.

The viewing at the church came a day after another flash flood trapped 17 hikers in a scenic canyon outside Tucson. Rescuers had to pluck some of the hikers, including a 4-year-old boy, from a mountain creek swollen by floodwaters Sunday, but everyone survived.

In the deadly flooding more than a week earlier, Hector Miguel Garnica, 26, was the last member of the family to be found but was positively identified through his DNA just in time to be included in the funeral Mass.

His wife, Maria del Carmen Raya Garcia, was killed as they celebrated her 27th birthday, along with their three small children: Hector Daniel, 7, Mia, 5, and Emily, 3.

Also killed was Raya Garcia’s mother, Selia Garcia Castaneda, 57; Raya Garcia’s brother Javier Raya Garcia, 19; her sister Maribel Raya Garcia, 24; Maribel’s daughter Erika Janel Camacho Raya, 2; and Jonatan Leon Villanueva, a grandson of Selia Garcia who would have turned 13 next month.

The group was swept away when a flash flood from a thunderstorm upstream rushed through the swimming area in Tonto National Forest. Authorities have said the family had no warning.

Those who knew Hector Garnica said he was a hardworking family man whose positive demeanor was widely known at the numerous restaurants that employed him as a cook over the years in the town of Cave Creek, a town outside Phoenix.

Maria Raya Garcia was known for her kind manner and deep dedication to her own job at a local restaurant kitchen.

“I thought it was like a dream; I was hoping it wasn’t real,” said Ray Lopez, kitchen manager at El Encanto restaurant, where she worked.

He recalled Raya Garcia’s joy when he and the chef agreed to let her take her birthday weekend off despite a busy schedule.

Lopez said he and the rest of the restaurant staff have been deeply upset by the loss of their friend and co-worker.

“I’m OK when I’m here at home,” Lopez said. “When I go there and she’s not there – that’s when I have a hard time.”

Four other relatives survived the flash flood. Esthela Abigail Atondo was rescued, and her aunt Sonia Atondo said her niece still isn’t talking about what happened.

“I saw her and hugged her, but she didn’t say anything,” said the elder Atondo, who traveled from Seattle to attend the funeral. “She didn’t want to say anything.”

Esthela Atondo was rescued with her husband, Julio Cesar Garcia; their 1-year-old daughter, Marina Garcia; and his 8-year-old son from a previous relationship, Acis Raiden Garcia. The aunt said she did not know the people who died.

“I think it is a thing of God that they were saved,” Sonia Atondo said of those rescued. “Our family is very grateful (to Cesar) for saving (Marina). He did what he could, and that was a lot.”

Associated Press writer Alina Hartounian in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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Source: Associated Press