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Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Avarie Keim fills sandbags while her mom, Tiffany, holds the bag as volunteers fill bags at the old Cottonwood Heights Elementary School Tuesday.

After furious sandbagging efforts, residents in Oakley spent much of Tuesday watching and hoping the water wouldn't go much higher.

While many people in the Summit County town said they felt overwhelmed, the spirit in the flood-drenched neighborhoods was hardly hopeless.

"I tell you what, this community comes together when someone needs help," resident Annie Piper said.

In Salt Lake County, the creek flowing from Little Cottonwood Canyon had dropped 6 inches, and residents and fire crews spent most of Tuesday filling sandbags and reinforcing flood measures in preparation for Wednesday, when officials say the heavy snowmelt will resume.

On Tuesday, Piper's house stayed dry, but some of her neighbors weren't as lucky.

Bruce Obert's small cabin on the banks of the Weber River was surrounded by muddy floodwater.

Protected by a makeshift wall of plywood and sandbags, Obert's home stayed dry inside, and Obert can still sleep in it, though he needs to don rubber waders when he steps outside.

"It's a bit nerve-racking, and I don't sleep very well, but I can still live there," he said.

Obert arranged to obtain large plastic flood barriers from a Logan-based company to replace the sandbags and plywood.

Summit County sheriff's detective Ron Bridge said much of the water around Oakley had subsided by Tuesday afternoon, and three of the four families who had been evacuated were able to return to their homes.

The Red Cross was caring for the fourth family, Bridge said.

Despite the encouraging news, National Weather Service officials in Salt Lake City warned residents, volunteers and police and fire crews to be ready for a surge in flood levels, with a high temperature of 87 degrees predicted for Wednesday.

"Little Cottonwood is something we're concerned about," said meteorologist Linda Cheng. "The flood warning is still in effect until Wednesday evening."

While stressing the flood alert remains in effect for the next 48 to 72 hours, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon noted that 85,000 sandbags have been filled and the state is ready to help.

Gov. Gary Herbert expressed his confidence in local leaders dealing with the flooding, saying they "are managing this ongoing situation admirably."

"Once again, my appreciation for local government has been renewed upon seeing the quick and effective mobilization of our first responders," Herbert said in a news release.

Unified Fire Authority officials warned that a closed creek near an irrigation gate for Little Cottonwood Creek, which flows near residents on Milne Lane in Cottonwood Heights, could flood, although state and local authorities plan to step in to try to prevent problems.

"The gate is closed, and we've partly closed up holes leaking water through the creek," UFA Capt. Doug Rice said, "but the sandbags we used were ineffective. A lot of the soil had already been soaked."

If water rushed into the empty creek, officials predicted that more than 20 homes would be flooded.

The creek runs straight through the patio and backyard of the home of resident Debbie Funk. Crews are planning to bring boulders in place of the sandbags to block off water flow from the creek this morning. "We don't want to see (the Funks') patio furniture floating down to 13th East," Rice said.

Crews worked nonstop Tuesday trying to clear debris from the channel and Little Cottonwood Creek, where officials fear water could back up if the drains become clogged.

The north road heading up the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon caused concern Monday night, and officials kept a close watch on the eroding hill Tuesday to make sure it stayed intact and could remain open.

"One concern is if the road does go down, the debris and dirt will block the creek," Unified Police deputy Chief Shane Hudson said.

Resident Ann Pettit, whose home sits along the southern edge of the road, said everything appears to be holding, but no one knows what Wednesday will bring.

The highest water peak seen was 900 cubic feet of water per second in Little Cottonwood Creek on Monday night, compared to 1,100 cubic feet per second during the flood year of 1983. Engineering and Flood Control Division director Scott Baird said this year's flow isn't likely to reach that peak.

But for Oakley resident Diane Fisher, who said she has lived in the area for about 40 years, this flood tops the list.

"This is the worst I've ever seen," Fisher said. "And I expect (Wednesday) could be worse."

Firefighters and volunteers in Murray worked into the early hours of Tuesday, fortifying roads and businesses around Murray Park. The situation was stabilized, according to Murray Fire Marshal Russ Groves.

Throughout the Salt Lake Valley, water levels are expected to stay at current levels, and measures already undertaken likely will be enough to protect most threatened structures, said UFA Capt. Clint Smith.

"We are feeling pretty confident that we can maintain and hold without too much more work today," Smith said Tuesday.

Smith estimated that water levels peaked about 9 p.m. Monday.

"With the cooler temperatures overnight, we're not anticipating any spikes, but we'll be monitoring the situation everywhere," he said.

Residents in Salt Lake County who want to help with sandbagging can go to Cottonwood Heights Elementary School, 2415 E. Bengal Blvd. (7530 South), or to the Salt Lake Emergency Operations Center near 3300 South and 900 West, or call 801-743-7280.

Contributing: Pat Reavy

e-mail: lgroves@desnews.com; jsmith@desnews.com