Flash flood warning for Dixie today

Published: Thursday, Aug. 2 2007 9:25 a.m. MDT

Firefighters check out the garage from the Mike Staples home, which was partially destroyed by flooding from North Creek.

Douglas Wilson

The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch effective until noon today for an already-flood damaged southwestern Utah.

A Wednesday afternoon thunderstorm left the town of Gunlock an island in Washington County, wiping out a bridge and 90 feet of roadway to the north and severely damaging a bridge to the south.

Crews were able to reopen one lane of the southbound two-lane road that leads in and out of Gunlock by early today, giving residents of the rural community their only way out of town.

"The water just eroded the soil on the back side of the bridge," said Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner, who surveyed the damage early today. "County road crews were busy all night long trying to reopen a portion of the road."

Rock work completed along the river last year helped save Gunlock from more severe damage, Gardner said, although several feet of sediment will have to be removed.

Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Utah Department of Homeland Security are assessing the damage today, said Preston Raban, Department of Public Safety public information officer. A DPS helicopter is on standby to help as needed, he said.

Elsewhere, floodwaters severely damaged six homes in the Staples subdivision built along a creek that winds along Kolob Canyon Road near Virgin.

"In the 46 years that I've lived here, this is the biggest flood I've ever seen come down the North Creek," said Doug Wilson, who made his way down Kolob Mountain at the height of the flooding.

Wilson said his friend, Mike Staples, lost a portion of a log cabin and had several other family homes seriously damaged in the raging floodwaters. At least two feet of mud clogged the Kolob Canyon Road near Sunset Canyon Ranch, Wilson said, which was eventually cleared out by the ranch owner using a backhoe.

Washington County Sheriff's Lt. Jake Adams said deputies had to rescue several of the home's residents by stringing a line across the water and swimming back and forth to dry land with the occupants. Rescuers were not able to save a few pigs, dogs, cats and a bird from the rising waters. The department's swift-water rescue team rescued about 30 people.

Other rescue operations took place after people climbed to their rooftops to avoid the water, according to the National Weather Service.

The recreational vehicle that was destroyed was the only one that remained in the Zion River Resort after evacuation orders were issued. About 40 people were able to get their recreational vehicles out of the park, which is built along the banks of the Virgin River, before waters reached dangerous levels.

One family planning a campout at the resort instead watched their gear and Suburban wash away in the roiling waters. Resort owners said the facility would be reopened next week.

A central emergency operations center was opened at the Washington County Administration Building in St. George to monitor the situation. Although the Red Cross was ready with an emergency shelter in La Verkin, none of the displaced homeowners took advantage of the shelter.

The clean up from massive flooding is under way today.

"There's no happy medium here in Dixie," Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith said today. "One week we're sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for a wildfire, the next week we're out in hip boots scraping mud out of our neighbor's basements."

The National Weather Service reported Wednesday that the downpour that began about 5:30 p.m. dropped up to 3 inches of water. The heavy storm forced the closure of state Route 9 for about two hours and the evacuation of residents of Zion Canyon.

Wednesday night's flooding is reminiscent of the 2005 floods that destroyed dozens of homes in the St. George area.

"The one thing that's saved us from the rain is the mitigation we did after the big flood," Smith said. "The flood channels were opened up."




E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com

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