Hundreds of volunteers help clean up muddy mess from flooding in Santa Clara

'They're just coming from all over the place to help'

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 12 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

Home owners city officials and volunteers continue Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012 to clean up after the dike break on Monday.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SANTA CLARA, Washington County — With cloth towels and rolls of paper towels as their tools, friends and family of Pam Graf sat on her living room floor Wednesday surrounded by thousands of handwritten papers and notes spread over every available inch of the floor.

Genealogy sheets, Boy Scout memorabilia and letters that Graf's son had hand-written to her while he was serving an LDS mission littered the floor. All of the irreplaceable treasures were in Graf's basement Tuesday when a wall of mud and water broke through the window well and gutted the room.

Wednesday, friends and family members started the tedious process of going through every single sheet of paper — peeling the soaked pages off each other and hand drying them individually with paper towels.

Several empty towel rolls sat nearby.

Down the street from Graf, two women in a front yard sat in lawn chairs next to buckets of water and hand-washed hundreds of photographs one by one, then hung them on a clothesline to dry.

Similar scenes of kindness, neighbors helping neighbors and strangers helping complete strangers, played out throughout the southern Utah town of Santa Clara, a day after a breach in a dike that held water in Laub Pond sent a destructive flow of mud and water through the neighborhoods below.

The volunteers

More than 800 volunteers officially signed up Wednesday to help residents of Santa Clara dig out from the muddy mess, and many others jumped in to assist without checking in. Many were caked in red mud from head to toe while helping people they didn't even know.

About half of the volunteers who signed up were high school and junior high students who were allowed to leave school Wednesday to help with the cleanup efforts. Many worked with big muddy hand prints on their clothes, placed by friends as a sort of badge of honor.

"This is what I need to do," said 16-year-old Kaden Hardy, who was excused early from Snow Canyon High School. "I like to help with whatever I can. I feel it's important to serve others."

Graf said a woman from the neighboring town of Ivins was at Graf's house all night Tuesday helping.

"I went up to her and I said, 'I don't even know your name.' And she told me her name, and we just hugged and cried and I said, 'This is what it's all about.'"

On Tuesday, the earthen retention dike holding back Laub Pond was breached following a week of heavy rains. Santa Clara Mayor Rick Rosenberg said 31 homes suffered some type of damage along with about a dozen businesses. Basements were flooded with mud and water in the majority of those homes. Some suffered serious structural damage and may have to be condemned and knocked down, he said.

The story on Wednesday, however, was the volunteers. In a state already renowned for voluntarism, residents said Utah shined once again as friends and strangers jumped in to offer help in a time of need.

Lisa Frei said she wasn't surprised:

"I know this town. I know southern Utah in general," she said. "You're not alone in it, that's for sure."

Craving's Bakery

Frei's business, Cravings Bakery, was one of the businesses hardest hit. The broken dike, which can be seen from the bakery's back door, sent a wall of mud in her store's direction.

"It broke the back doors out, filled up the store and then broke the front doors out," she said.

Her family has had the store, formerly known as Dutchman's Market, for 26 years, and had just remodeled the interior less than a year ago. Wednesday, hundreds of volunteers were pulling damaged equipment out of the building and throwing away contaminated food. Even the owner of the market across the street from her, whose business also suffered damage, drove a Bobcat to her parking lot to help scoop mud.

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