By Gary Dillard
More than 3 inches had fallen at Clifton on Oct. 1 and 2, 1983, according to a USGS report on the flood.
As the water came down the San Francisco River channel at almost 90,000 cubic feet per second on Oct. 1 — it had risen to this record level from 60,000 in a little more than four hours — it gave townsfolk little time to respond to the flood whistle.
The flooding which was overtopping the flood channel soon began receding, but on Oct. 2, the level rose again, this time to more than 90,000 cubic feet per second.
The flood reached 9 feet in depth, some 4 feet higher than the maximum in prior floods, the report said.
The river left a sea of mud behind, according to a newspaper report, with as much as 7 feet of mud in some homes.
The flooding destroyed 90 homes and 41 businesses, but there was no loss of life. The author of the USGS report attributed this to flood-warning sirens that were installed after the flood of 1972 and the efforts of local police to evacuate residents.
The origin of the water that swamped Clifton was tropical storm Octave, which moved from Baja across Arizona in late September and early October. Its rainfall was between 3 and 11 inches over a period of several days.
The largest rainfall was in the San Francisco River basin upstream from Clifton, where Octave dropped 11.3 inches.
1903 flooding kills at least 30
On Friday, June 12, the Bisbee Daily Review, which had extensive coverage of the Clifton/Morenci events, reported that 13 bodies had been recovered and that 30 people are known to have been drowned and their bodies washed away.
“Hundreds of men are busy cleaning up the wreckage and it is likely that many bodies will yet be discovered,” the Bisbee paper reported. Bisbee was interested in Clifton because the Copper Queen mining company and the Detroit company had overlapping ownership and many men had worked in both mines.
“The Frisco river is now carrying a strong current, hence the bodies washed into it will probably never be recovered as they will be carried away or buried beneath the silt or tailings.”