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Cheerleaders, convicts help cleanup flood damage in Helper

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 6 2014 8:46 p.m. MDT

Volunteers work to clear mud and debris from the backyard of Sue Williams' home in Helper on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014. The home was one of at least 138 homes that sustained damage in Carbon County when heavy rains caused flash flooding on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014.

Geoff Liesik, Deseret News

HELPER, Carbon County — The mingled sounds of more than 30 voices caught Sue Williams off guard.

"I couldn't comprehend to tell you the truth, when I heard all those voices out back," Williams said Wednesday as she stood outside her modest house near the corner of Main and Janet streets.

Williams' backyard and her basement were filled with more than the inches of mud and water left behind by Monday night's devastating flash floods. They were filled with people of all ages from all walks of life.

"The lady came out of her house and she was crying," Carbon High School cheerleader Kaylee Bruno said, referring to Williams.

"She was like, 'Never put anything in the basement,'" Bruno said. "It was really sad. I just want to help out."

Bruno and her fellow cheerleaders ditched their pompoms Wednesday to help clean up homes and yards all along Helper's Main Street that have been affected by the flooding.

A crew of jail inmates from neighboring Emery County also found themselves knee deep in the thick mud for most of the day, laying down sandbags and pumping water out of basements.

"There really are several inmates standing in line to come out and help," Emery County Sheriff's Sgt. Dusty Butler said.

"Most of them are decent people that just made a mistake," the sergeant added. "They're trying to straighten their lives out, so they like to come out and be productive."

The Helper City Council and Carbon County Commission both declared a state of emergency, meaning they can now request additional assistance from the state. It remained unclear Wednesday night what federal aid, if any, might become available in the future, according to Carbon County Emergency Management Director Jason Llewelyn.

"We're trying to find other agencies and avenues to get people some help," Llewelyn said. "We have people out in the field right now (assessing the damage)."

County crews have had to go door-to-door at times because some people are not reporting the damage to homes, businesses or property, Llewelyn said. So far, 138 homes have sustained some kind of damage from the flood waters that hit the communities of Helper, Spring Glen, Carbonville and Westwood, he said.

That amounts to about $1.6 million in damages to homes alone, according to county officials. Efforts are still underway to calculate the damage done to infrastructure and local businesses, which is expected to push the final total closer to the $4 million mark, Llewelyn said.

Back on Main Street in Helper, the cheerleaders and inmates saw some of their morning's efforts undone by a fast-moving afternoon storm that pelted the small mining community with heavy rain and hail. Gutters ran full again and fears of more flooding ran high.

But the army of volunteers quickly regained the upper hand and the sun came out again, shining down on the unlikely collection of people working to put a community back together again.

"I think you bond more in a small city," Williams said. "It's just like a church. You know everybody when you have a small church, but when you have a big one, it's, 'Hi, how are you doing?' and go on your way. Here, they honestly mean, 'How are you doing?'"

Email: gliesik@deseretnews.com, Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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