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Cleanup begins after storms dump heavy rain on parts of Arizona; Phoenix cactus farm hit hard

Horses wait to be evacuated from an area where flash flood waters overran Skunk Creek, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, in New River, Ariz., just northwest of Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

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Horses wait to be evacuated from an area where flash flood waters overran Skunk Creek, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, in New River, Ariz., just northwest of Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX - Residents began cleaning up Wednesday from devastating flooding that slammed Arizona a day earlier, trapping people in vehicles and homes and destroying up to $2 million worth of inventory at a cactus nursery north of Phoenix.

The National Weather Service said some areas received more rain Tuesday than they had all last summer, and many residents were faced with a long recovery.

At Cox Cactus Farm, workers gathered and discarded flooded plants while tractors scooped up dirt at the nursery that caters to landscapers, resorts and golf courses.

Co-owner Jessica Cox said the farm lost between $1.5 million and $2 million worth of inventory and estimated it will take two years to fully recover from the storm. The owners basically have to rebuild and regrow their inventory from scratch, she said.

The floodwaters rose so quickly Tuesday morning that Cox's husband had to climb on the roof of a greenhouse to escape. A worker retrieved him with a tractor.

Farther north, nearly 5 inches of rain fell around New River, the site of some of Tuesday's most chaotic scenes.

Several homes in the town about 30 miles north of Phoenix sustained significant damage, and a helicopter rescued two women and three dogs from a residence surrounded by swift-moving water.

Some New River residents who live near a flooded wash spent Wednesday morning helping each other.

Susy Mister was gathering metal panels and fencing that belonged to her neighbour, who is out of town. Mister said she hasn't yet been able to relay the extent of the damage.

A muddy pit filled with rocks, pieces of asphalt and mangled trees was all that was left of the neighbour's circular horse pen.

"We're trying to soften the load on her, trying to soften the hit that she's going to get when she sees her home," Mister said. "This was a horse property. Now it's all destroyed."

New River resident Wayne Adams set out on foot at 6 a.m. with his dog in search of his utility trailer.

"It just disappeared," said Adams, who uses the trailer to haul lumber and trash. "We went home, and now we're back out again. I still hope we find it."

Elsewhere in metro Phoenix and Tucson, a small trailer park was evacuated, a school was flooded, and first responders pulled motorists from partially submerged vehicles. There were no reports of deaths or serious injuries.

Some animals also were displaced by the flooding.

The Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center in Scottsdale is caring for a rescued fawn and baby skunk.

Neighbours in the west Phoenix suburb of Surprise spotted the skunk floating down a street Tuesday night. Center spokeswoman Kim Carr said the animal, now named Monsoon, will remain there for several months.

The fawn will stay there permanently because of state wildlife rules prohibiting the release of deer back into the wild.

Flooding also brought snakes out of the woodwork with reports of reptiles spotted in trees.

Russ Johnson, president of the Phoenix Herpetological Society, said snakes typically live in the washes that get flooded. The reptiles have the same reaction as mammals around rushing water — head for higher ground.

"If they can't find anything right away ... they'll go up anything they can, whether it be on top of a tree or a bush," Johnson said. He advised that anyone who sees a snake, venomous or not, should avoid handling it.

Also Tuesday, a river of muddy water rushed down I-17 about 25 miles north of Phoenix as motorists changed lanes to avoid it. A stretch of freeway was shut down and reopened later in the day.

"It looked absolutely devastating," said Gov. Jan Brewer, who was glued to the TV all day watching the rescues. "For the last 10, 15 years, we've never seen anything the likes of this."

Parts of two other state highways that were closed because of flooding reopened Tuesday night, the Arizona Department of Transportation said.

In another dramatic rescue, authorities pulled an elderly woman from a van stuck in rushing floodwaters, a scene repeated across the region throughout the day as other motorists became trapped.

The desert around Phoenix sees little rain most of the year, so when major storms roll through, the precipitation has nowhere to go.

"With so much rain falling so quickly, the water doesn't have a chance to soak into the hard-packed, rocky soil," said meteorologist Gary Woodall of the National Weather Service.

Arizona's monsoon season runs roughly from June to September, when powerful storms form with heavy rain and whipping winds. The phenomenon occurs each summer when the winds shift, bringing moisture north from the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico to produce radical and unpredictable weather changes.

Sporadic storms were expected to continue across the Phoenix area for the next few days, according to the weather service.

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Associated Press writers Emaun Kashfi and Bob Christie contributed to this report.

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