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Minutes after cellphones in Albuquerque sounded a warning of “life threatening” flash floods Tuesday, firefighters were rushing to the sides of Albuquerque’s arroyos to rescue three people swept away in floodwaters.
By Thursday, Albuquerque Fire Rescue had pulled the bodies of three men from the end of a diversion channel after a search that had started as a rescue attempt but quickly shifted to recovery.
AFR Lt. Tom Ruiz called it the deadliest such incident in the agency’s history.
He said the third body was spotted by a drone around 8 a.m. at a washout near Tramway and Roy. The body was found in the same area as the other two bodies located by drones on Wednesday.
“This is what we expected to find in terms of … how many people were missing,” Ruiz said.
He said the first two bodies were identified based on their descriptions as two of the three people seen carried down an arroyo in the Snow Heights area on Tuesday.
Ruiz said there was no description of the third victim. The bodies were revealed one by one, he said, as the water level receded in the washout.
“It’s unfortunate that there have been three victims that perished as a result of the flash flood, but we will do our due diligence here – our recovery and our search – to make sure that there aren’t any more victims,” Ruiz said.
He said he has no reason to believe there are more victims, but AFR and Bernalillo County firefighters will continue searching the area until Friday evening.
Ruiz said he hopes people stay out of the arroyos as storms continue this week.
“We are expecting some weather today and tomorrow, so … please stay out of the arroyo systems when that rain comes in,” Ruiz said.
On Tuesday afternoon the National Weather Service issued an emergency alert for flash flooding in the area – calling it a “dangerous and life-threatening situation.”
Officials said the foothills got more than an inch of rain in less than 15 minutes.
Ruiz said the floodwaters that followed were some of the highest he’s seen – moving at 25 feet per second and 6 feet high in the North Diversion Channel.
Within a half hour, several people called 911 to report three people floating – one of them face down – in floodwaters in Embudo Arroyo, near Pennsylvania and Constitution NE.
Swift water rescue units, outfitted with harnesses, stood along the sides of the North Diversion Channel to try to rescue them but didn’t spot the three over a two-hour period.
Afterward, firefighters focused on recovery as Albuquerque police and Bernalillo County open space units started to search the washout for bodies with drones and fan boats.
On Thursday morning an AFR fanboat skimmed the surface of the washout as firefighters aboard prodded the water below with lengthy metal poles. A drone flew 30 feet overhead scanning the area.