As water rushed around him, Cesar Garcia clung desperately to a tree and his 1-year-old daughter, hoisting himself above the debris-filled creek that had swept the pair downstream and killed 10 of his family members. "All I could think of was like, 'Hold on to my baby.' If I didn't hold on to her, she was going to be gone," he said. The horror that so quickly engulfed Garcia on July 15 occurred on what was meant to be a celebratory outing to mark his sister's birthday. Garcia and 13 family members set out on a hike to the normally tranquil swimming hole below a waterfall known as Water Wheel in Tonto National Forest, a popular escape from Phoenix's brutal summertime heat. A light drizzle earlier in the day had given way to sunshine. The family was a mile into the trek when a torrential rainstorm in fire-scarred mountains miles away sent water, dirt, ash and trees surging into a creek.
Garcia's mother, two sisters, brother, a brother-in-law and five nieces and nephews were swept away and killed. "They heard a roar, and it was on top of them," Fire Chief Ron Sattelmaier of the Water Wheel Fire and Medical District said at the time. In an interview with the AP at his Phoenix home Wednesday, Garcia recalled feeling helpless as the water swept in. "All of the sudden this wave appeared from far away, and I screamed to them, 'Hey, let's get out of the way! Let's get out of the way!' But it was coming too fast, we couldn't do anything," he said. Garcia instinctively clutched his 1-year-old daughter, Marina, and grabbed the shirt of his nephew who had fallen. But the boy slipped from his grasp. Rocks and trees in the water slammed into Garcia, tearing flesh from his legs and bruising his rib as he tried to shield his tiny daughter. Somehow, his wife and 8-year-old son also survived. Click for his full interview.