Floods threaten southern Utah towns, warnings issued

By Josh Loftin

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Dec. 20 2010 2:17 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Heavy rains washed out a section of state Route 9 in Zion National Park and swollen rivers were threatening towns in southern Utah on Monday.

The National Park Service said in a news release that an area about 300 feet long around and under the road had eroded and was unsafe for travel. The damaged section is about two miles west of Zion's east entrance.

Park officials closed about six miles of Route 9, commonly called the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, from the east entrance to the junction with the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. It will stay closed for at least a few days until repairs can be made.

About 2½ inches of rain fell overnight in the park.

The south entrance, through the town of Springdale, remains open.

Other towns near the park, including Hurricane and Virgin, were on alert as the Virgin River reached flood stage and exceeded its banks.

Washington County emergency services director Pete Kuhlmann told KSTU-TV that although some homes in the towns are in danger, no damage has been reported.

The river channel was widened after flooding in 2005, and that has helped keep flood waters away from structures, Kuhlmann said.

A flood warning was in place for Kane and western Washington counties through 3 p.m. Monday. Heavy rain, however, was expected to continue through Wednesday, said Larry Dunn, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.

As much as 8 inches of rain has fallen in some areas of southern Utah over the past few days, filling dry creek beds and making small streams dangerous to cross.

Because of the danger of flash flooding and washouts, travel along unimproved roads was discouraged.

The weather has caused problems throughout Utah.

In Salt Lake County, Little Cottonwood Canyon was closed Monday morning for avalanche control. Alta and Snowbird ski resorts are located in the canyon.

Icy roads have also been a problem. The Deseret News reported that 11 people have died in Utah in traffic accidents since Friday.

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