Las Vegas Sun

July 30, 2014

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Damage assessed, area braces for more rain

Southern Nevadans began to clean up today from Thursday's torrential rainstorm that sent swift flood waters careening through the Las Vegas Valley, destroying homes, closing streets and killing two, including a 91-year-old woman.

A watchful eye is being kept on gray, cloudy skies as more rain is predicted today and through the weekend, the National Weather Service at McCarran International Airport said.

"I don't know where all the water came from -- it looked like a waterfall coming in," said North Las Vegas resident Wendy Hayes. "Our entire basement is like a swimming pool. We got the swimming pool we always wanted."

Hayes, her husband, Chris, and their young children Brandon, Chris and Melissa spent part of Thursday night at an American Red Cross emergency shelter at Woodbury Middle School on Sandhill Road after their home was flooded.

They returned home just after the downpour started to find water pouring into the basement floor of their home. They grabbed the kids and started back toward the van in knee-deep water.

"We didn't have time to grab anything," said Hayes, whose family moved to Las Vegas from San Bernardino about a year ago. "We kept about everything down there (a television, VCR, clothes, the kids' birth certificates). Now I don't know what we're going to do."

Meteorologists are calling the storm a 100-year flood, meaning an event that has a 1 percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year. By comparison, a 500-year flood is an occurrence that has a 0.2 percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year.

"It's a tragedy," Mayor Oscar Goodman said after taking a look at damaged areas of the valley.

"The good news is that the Strip and downtown were not affected and that we are still open for business. The bad news is that this will be the beginning of some hard times for some of the locals. The city will do everything it can to aid those affected by this devastating disaster."

This morning, damage assessment teams from Clark County Public Works department assembled to assess the valleywide damage caused by Thursday's thunderstorm and flash flooding.

Final damage estimates aren't expected for several days because of the extensiveness and severity of the flooding. The city of Las Vegas alone is estimating its damage at $1 million.

Between 10:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Thursday there were 1,262 9-1-1 emergency calls. The average for that time period is 585. There were an estimated 130 rescues by valley police and fire departments, as emergency services were stretched to the limits as crews raced to keep up with calls.

One of the two deaths attributed to the storm was the result of an auto accident just after 11 a.m., when a car hydroplaned in the northwest part of the valley.

A Mercedes, driven by Las Vegan Shahram Sheikhan, 29, was traveling at speeds too fast for the slick road conditions on Buffalo Drive just north of Charleston Boulevard, Metro Police said.

The Mercedes slid across the raised center median of southbound Buffalo and struck a Lincoln traveling in the northbound lanes, police said.

The female passenger, 91-year-old Dorathy Ohriner of Las Vegas, died at the scene, the Clark County Coroner's office said today. The Lincoln was driven by Neil Ohriner, 66, also of Las Vegas, police said.

Sheikhan and Mr. Ohriner were taken to University Medical Center with moderate injuries.

A man, believed to be homeless, was unable to escape the rushing waters and was found dead in the Flamingo Wash near 3800 Spencer Road.

The man's body was found entangled in a tree and investigators are trying to determine if he could have been living in the wash when the flood waters carried him away. The coroner's office this morning had him listed as a John Doe.

The thunderstorm which signaled the start of the two-month-long local monsoon season, formed in the worst possible place -- the high ground on the west end of the valley.

The rains started to pound the west side of town at about 11 a.m. and then the flood waters began a long run downhill and into the eastern part of the valley.

The National Weather Service reported 1.29 inches of rain at McCarran Airport, and more than 3 inches fell in some parts of the northwest, southwest and southeast sections of the valley in less than three hours, according to the Regional Flood Control District.

The storm brought the year-to-date rainfall to 2.28 inches -- 0.21 inches above normal. For much of the year, the area has been 1.5 inches below normal. Even with Thursday's storm, the year-to-date rainfall total still is far behind the 4.43 inches that had fallen by this time last year, the weather service said.

"It could be the worst storm in the last 10 to a dozen years," said Ron McQueen, warning coordinator meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

Whether the valley gets more rain today depends on how warm it gets, Weather Service Meteorologist Technician Steve Downs said, noting that if the sun stays behind clouds and the ground remains cool, there is less chance for precipitation.

Temperatures in the upper 80s could trigger more storms, he said, noting that a high of 94 degrees -- 12 degrees below normal -- was predicted.

Dangerous weather conditions, including lightning, closed McCarran from 11:15 a.m. to 12:06 p.m. Thursday, an airport official said, noting that at least four flights were diverted to other airports.

One of the worst flooded areas of the valley was at Sahara Avenue and Nellis Boulevard where a broken sewer line turned the intersection into a virtual lake.

Clark County Sanitation District Director Jim Gans sent an inspector to the scene today. The pipe was apparently being installed and no wastewater was running through it. The size of the pipeline was not available at press time, but floodwaters from Nellis and Owens Avenue were gushing through it.

Clark County Chief Health Officer Donald Kwalick today advised residents with swimming pools and spas to super-chlorinate them to kill bacteria from stormwaters. He warned people to stay out of floodwaters and if a cut becomes infected after contact with dirty water, seek medical advice.

Major businesses like the Boulevard Mall and the Forum Shops at Caesars were flooded Thursday.

During the first hour of the storm, police responded to a roof collapse at Harley Davidson of Southern Nevada, 2605 S. Eastern Ave., and a reported roof collapse at the Lucky grocery store at 2550 S. Fort Apache Road.

The collapse at the supermarket turned out to be a leak, but it started a deluge of calls to emergency services.

"Within minutes after 11 a.m. the fire dispatch center was overwhelmed with calls for assistance from an area extending from Tropicana Avenue to Alexander Road on the west side of the city," Las Vegas Fire Department spokesman Tim Szymanski said.

"Most of the calls were people trapped in their cars, suddenly surrounded by water."

On an average day the city's fire department responds to 150 emergency calls, but from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Thursday the department responded to about 240 calls, Szymanski said.

"I think the thing that impacted us is that it inundated us all at once," Szymanski said. It all happened so quickly."

Among the numerous swift water rescues reported was the airlift of a man from the top of his car on Boulder Highway near Russell Road.

The Nevada Highway Patrol was busy keeping motorists away from dangerously flooded roads.

"I must have passed 50 people stalled out in the water," NHP Trooper Scott Flabi said. "I've never seen it this bad and I've been here 10 years."

Much of the flood damage was centered on the eastside of the valley.

The Miracle Mile Mobile Home Park, 3642 Boulder Highway and the Boulder Lakes RV park, 6201 Boulder Highway were covered in 6 inches to a foot of mud after the storm.

At Miracle Mile, which backs up against the Flamingo Wash, the foundations were cut out from under mobile homes by the raging flood waters.

Margie Morgan's mobile home fell into the wash and floated part way down stream. A dozen families were forced to leave the park because of the chance that their homes would be undercut as well.

The Music for HOPE Foundation show will hold a concert Aug. 14 to raise money for Moran, who lost not only her home, which had no flood insurance, but also all of her possessions. She escaped with only the clothes on her back.

The concert will feature the Randy Anderson Band, the Jones Element and several other country music bands, the organization said. A site is yet to be determined.

There were a number of road closures, including Desert Inn Road and Durango Drive and the Charleston Boulevard underpass at Interstate 15. U.S. 95 and I-15 were reduced to one open lane in some areas. Several onramps to both arteries were shutdown, the Nevada Highway Patrol said.

Also closed were Pinto Lane at Desert Lane and at Martin Luther King Boulevard. Commerce Street, in the area of Utah Street and Wyoming Avenue, also was closed. There was 4 feet of flood water at Tropicana Avenue that stranded numerous vehicles.

County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury cautioned that while the flooding was bad it could have been much worse without the detention basins.

"Early assessments show that the basins and the flood control system did its job," Woodbury said. "They didn't handle all the water, but when you have that much water dumped in that short of time there's not a flood system anywhere that could contain it."

The Bureau of Land Management closed the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area visitors center and scenic loop because of flash flooding.

BLM spokesman Phillip Guerrero said Red Rock and State Route 159 that passes through the canyon was flooded, as was the visitor's center, which is in the midst of a renovation project.

The storm also canceled and postponed entertainment events. Last night's Peter Frampton show at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay was rescheduled to Aug. 16 at 8 p.m. Those who have tickets can use them for the Aug. 16 show or get a refund from the House of Blues.

Sun reporters

Erin Neff, Mary Manning, Jerry Fink, Sonya Padgett and Cheryl Miller contributed to this report.

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