Severe Weather: Virgin River flood waters in Arizona, Nevada, Utah


Associated Press

Posted on December 22, 2010 at 12:51 AM

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Flood waters on Tuesday ripped through a retirement community in northwestern Arizona, washing away four unoccupied homes and threatening to destroy others.

Meanwhile, evacuation orders were lifted in a small Utah town about 60 miles away after a dam feared close to breaking was declared safe. But flood warnings and emergency orders remained in place in some Utah, Nevada and Arizona counties, and more rain was expected overnight.

In northern Arizona, flood waters cut through the rural communities of Beaver Dam and Littlefield, sweeping away four homes after saturating the soil beneath them and causing them to collapse.

None of the wood-framed homes was inhabited, although a man was getting ready to move into one of them, said Jeff Hunt, Beaver Dam/Littlefield Fire District chief. The man and workers were putting finishing touches on the home but were able to gather their belongings before flood waters carried it away, Hunt said.

Hunt said about a dozen other homes in the two communities, which share a zip code, were still in danger of being destroyed as flood waters dug into the ground. About 200 feet of roadway was washed away.

"I think that through the night we'll lose potentially several more, especially if we get the flows increasing," he said. "If we get more velocity, it will pick them off one at a time."

Mohave County declared an emergency Tuesday because of flooding in the area. Flood waters hit the same area in 2005, destroying homes and a bridge over the Beaver Dam Wash.

Authorities began warning residents late Monday that they should evacuate if heavy runoff from nearby mountains continued. Few people initially did so, but more heeded the warning Tuesday.

In Utah, evacuation orders for the town of Rockville, population 247, were lifted Tuesday evening after authorities determined the Trees Ranch Dam on the Virgin River was stable.

Suspected leaking from the earthen dam was actually just saturated soil, said Kirk Best, regional engineer with the Utah Division of Water Rights.

The potential of the dam breaking led officials to issue evacuation orders for all of Rockville earlier in the day.

Washington County spokesman Marc Mortensen said a state of emergency remained in place for the county.

The National Weather Service said more rain was expected in the county overnight. The Virgin and Santa Clara rivers were expected to crest again Wednesday afternoon.

"We're still going to have largespread areas of rain but also the chance of thunderstorms," said Jim Harrison of the weather bureau in Las Vegas. "There's going to be additional flooding concerns then."

A northwestern Arizona weather station recorded at least 10 inches of rain Tuesday, while rainfall ranged from 10 to 14 inches in southwestern Utah, he said.

Zion National Park in southwestern Utah was evacuated Tuesday morning. Park officials said in a news release that they evacuated an unspecified number of people, including guests staying at the Zion Lodge and campers in the park.

St. George Mayor Daniel McArthur declared a state of emergency for his city about 40 miles southwest of the national park due to flooding, but no evacuations were ordered there.

The Washington County sheriff's office said flooding wiped out one of two bridges to the southern Utah town of Gunlock. About a half-dozen roads in the county, including state Route 9 in Zion National Park, have been closed.

A flood warning has been issued for Kane and Washington counties through Thursday.

A state of emergency also was ordered for nearby southern Nevada, after rain-swollen creeks closed some roads in the Las Vegas area and snow disrupted electricity to about 300 customers on nearby Mount Charleston.

County crews were expected to work through the night to clear roads so workers could restore power in the mountain area buried under 2 feet of snow.

In northern Arizona, residents in affected communities were busy placing sandbags around homes and building dirt berms to try to control the flood waters.

Others were busy gathering things out of their houses, in close view of the homes that had fallen into the Beaver Dam Wash and likely ended up in Lake Mead in Nevada, Hunt said.

"That's kind of the mentality in the rural area here — you build your own, you protect your own," Hunt said. "So they're doing their best."

One man with a history of heart problems went into cardiac arrest while working on a neighbor's home, but medical responders were able to control the situation and transported the man to the hospital. Hunt said the man was in critical condition, but no other injuries were reported.


Associated Press writers Josh Loftin in Salt Lake City and Cristina Silva in Las Vegas contributed to this report.