By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - At least eight people drowned while swimming in an Arizona river when the group was overwhelmed by flash flooding that followed heavy rains in the drought-stricken region, the local sheriff's office said on Sunday.
Authorities were searching for others missing after the incident on Saturday afternoon in the Verde River near Payson, about 90 miles (145 km) northeast of Phoenix, the Gila County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.
Local media reported that at least two children were among the dead. The sheriff's office did not give details of the deceased or those missing.
Sheriff J. Adam Shepherd said in the statement that a search-and-rescue operation was underway involving sheriff's deputies and the Arizona Department of Public Safety Ranger Helicopter, as well as members of the local Whispering Pines Fire Department and U.S. Forest Service.
There was also concern over possible flash flooding in southern Arizona, as well.
The National Weather Service in Phoenix said that most of Arizona was under flash flood watch until Monday evening, warning that "heavy rains can produce flash flooding of low lying, normally dry areas such as washes."
(Reporting by David Schwartz; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Frank McGurty and Sandra Maler)