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Search Is On for Survivors of Deadly Flood in US Polygamous Stronghold

A flash flood warning is in place until noon on Tuesday, but rescue crews and search teams are still scouring the area with tracking dogs and drones.

by VICE News
Sep 15 2015, 5:00pm

Imagen vía Chris Wyler

Search and rescue crews are on the hunt for four missing children and a woman after a deadly flash flood washed through an Arizona-Utah border town that's home to a reclusive polygamous Mormon sect.

The flood killed nine Monday after a sudden downpour sent a wall of water rushing through a canyon outside Hildale, Utah that overturned a van and SUV carrying 16 passengers. With a flash-flood warning still in place, authorities scoured the muddy canyon with tracking dogs and drones in search of survivors.

The flood "obviously caught these people off guard," said Hildale's assistant fire chief Kevin Barlow. "This hit with a vengeance we haven't seen for some time."

Related: Arizona Attorney General Asks Judge to Disband Police Force in Polygamist Community

At the time of the incident, the National Weather Service had issued a flash flood warning for the area, but members of the fundamentalist Mormon community who live in the area often avoid internet and television. Barlow told reporters he wasn't sure if those driving the car were aware of the flood warning.

Still, witnesses on the scene said the flood came out of nowhere. "It happened within like a half-hour, 45 minutes," Chris Wyler, a resident of nearby Colorado City, told NBC News. "[Then] it was just gone. And then the sun was shining again."

Wyler shot video of the water flooding city streets that showed residents fleeing waterlogged vehicles. 

The local fire department and police did not return repeated calls from VICE News.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert released a statement Tuesday morning expressing his condolences to the victims, and pledging to pitch in. "The State of Utah has offered its full resources to the town of Hildale to aid in the search and rescue effort," he said.

On Tuesday morning, residents of Hildale and Colorado City — many dressed in long prairie-style outfits characteristic of the enclosed mostly polygamous community — inspected the scene of the accident, as tractors and backhoes fished debris out of a nearby stream.

Nearly all the residents of the community are members or former members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), a polygamist breakaway sect of the Mormon Church. The group is led by Warren Jeffs, who is currently serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting underage girls.  

VICE on HBO talks to ex-members of the FLDS.