YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. —The deaths of three young tourists who were swept over a 317-foot waterfall this week in Yosemite National Park serve as a reminder of the deadly and alluring beauty of the raging rivers and streams across the West after a record winter snowfall.
As temperatures rise, the melting snow has engorged waterways, causing flooding and sometimes tragic consequences. Some states have seen an increase in water-related deaths that they blame on the surge in river flows.
Witnesses to the Yosemite tragedy described the traumatizing image of a young woman slipping on a rock above the raging Vernal Fall and two friends falling while trying to save her.
In an instant, a church photo opportunity turned horrific beyond description as the frigid Merced River, swollen by snowmelt, swept the trio over the edge Tuesday.
Across the West, rafters, kayakers, swimmers and even some drivers have lost their lives in recent weeks due to fast-moving water.
In Montana, at least 10 people have drowned so far this year and another man is missing and presumed drowned after trying to retrieve an oar that fell out of his raft Sunday. Only three people drowned in 2010, and Montana officials are warning that the difference is the volume of fast and cold water from the melting snowpack and spring rains.
At least 11 people have drowned in Utah waterways since April, many of them swept away in fast-flowing rivers swollen by melting snowpack.
Five people have died after being swept into Colorado's raging rivers and creeks. One of them, a Kansas woman, drowned June 22 after rolling her vehicle into a river.
Swollen rivers in Wyoming have killed at least half a dozen people this summer, including four members of a Colorado family whose vehicle plunged into a washout Tuesday, and a 4-year-old boy who was one of five people in a canoe that capsized on the Green River.