Hikers in Arizona floodwaters form human chain to help pull one another to safety

VIDEO: Flash floods cause damage across the countryPlayABCNews.com
WATCH Flash floods cause damage across the country

A large group of hikers were caught on video forming a chain to help one another after monsoon rain on Sunday resulted in flash flooding in Arizona’s Sabino Canyon.

The video, obtained by ABC News affiliate KGUN-TV, shows several male hikers struggling to stay afloat in waist-high water.

Bel’laca’talina D’vignon, 40, a nurse from Chicago, said she was napping on a rock during a hike Sunday when her roommate warned her of the raging water.

"My roommate was like, 'Wake up. We’ve got to go. We’ve got to go," she told ABC News. "I became disoriented because our surroundings weren’t the same anymore."

D’vignon and her roommate quickly hiked to higher ground, where they eventually spotted a group of what D’vignon estimates was 20 stranded hikers, including young children.

In a video posted by D'vignon on Facebook, the stranded hikers, all mostly strangers, can be seen standing on rocks while the other members of the group positioned themselves across the river. The rescuers clung to trees and branches with one arm as they reached out with their other arm to help others cross the river.

"The current of the water was so strong that we had to form the chain so if one of us slipped we had the chain [holding us] tight," D'vignon said. "We had to do it three times crossing over the [tram] bridges, which were covered in water."

D'vignon said the rescue effort, which she described as "a very intense, epic moment" continued for nearly four hours. Everyone in the group made it safely, according to D'vignon.

She added that the hikers decided to get themselves across the water because dusk was approaching and they had no fresh water and little food.

"It was fight or flight and we decided we wanted to survive," she said.

Deputy Cody Gress, a spokesperson for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, said the stranded hikers were cut off from crossing bridges used by sightseeing trams due to the water levels but were "not in immediate danger." Sheriff officials later used a vehicle "to cross the bridges and systematically load people to get them across the bridges. All were taken across safely."

"People need to plan ahead when they go hiking. Unfortunately we get too many hikers who don’t plan ahead, don’t bring enough water, food, or equipment for inclement weather conditions," Gress said in a statement. "Another issue we are seeing right now with our monsoon rain is that people are assuming that the water levels they are seeing are going to remain constant. The problem is they do not take into account the fact that Sabino Canyon, Bear Canyon, Tanque Verde Falls, etc. are all directly downstream from the mountain and are the most likely to receive flash flooding following mountain rains."

Nearly 20 hikers were also rescued in the neighboring Bear Canyon trailhead on Sunday evening, according to Rural Metro Fire Department Special Operations Battalion Chief John Walka.

A team of 30 rescuers from the Rural Metro Fire Department, Pima County Sheriff’s Department and Southern Arizona Rescue Association used a raft attached to a high line they constructed over the river to ferry the stranded hikers to safety.

“The water came down very fast,” said Walka, who added that many of the stranded hikers had recently exited a sightseeing tram. “There is already a river there and that river overflowed and the bridges overflowed so people were stuck on the wrong side of the mountain.”

The raging floodwaters in the region forced a separate dramatic rescue Sunday in the Tanque Verde Falls, about 10 miles away from Sabino Canyon. Two hikers were pulled to safety by a Pima County Sheriff’s Department helicopter in a spot known as Redington Pass, a high mountain area of Tanque Verde Canyon.

None of the hikers rescued on Sunday suffered life-threatening injuries, Walka said.

Hikers should be aware of the weather forecast, including both rain and heat, before hitting the trails, according to Walka.

“Hikers need to know that the weather can change very quickly when they’re out there in the wilderness,” he said. “Even six to 12 inches of fast-moving water can sweep you off your feet instantly.”

He added, “The best strategy is to stay put. Even strong swimmers can’t out-swim or out-muscle it because the water is relentless. It keeps on moving.”

Flash floods have hit cities across the nation, including in Birmingham, Alabama, where at least 10 drivers had to be rescued after storm drains on local roads were overhauled by rain.

In Syracuse, New York, fierce winds and heavy rain on Monday tore the roof off a store. The Knoebels Amusement Resort near Elysburg, Pennsylvania, closed early when water from a creek in the park spilled over, according to local ABC affiliate WNEP-TV.