Las Vegas Sun

April 23, 2014

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Quick, powerful storm sweeps through valley

Clark County Fire Department heavy rescue crews plucked six people out of waters rushing across the valley Monday afternoon during the height of a short but intense storm, fire officials said.

An afternoon storm swept across the valley, dropping as much as an inch and a half of rain in some parts.

The largest storm to hit the valley in this monsoon season, the storm quickly passed through, filling flood control channels and leaving streets and low areas flooded. There were no serious injuries reported.

The National Weather Service said the storm system was leaving the valley today and expected clearer skies and temperatures in the 90s today and a high of 101 Wednesday.

"We're in pretty good shape at least in the valley area for the rest of the week," Las Vegas-based meteorologist Charlie Schlott said this morning. "I think we should see a drying trend over the next three days."

Three waves of thunderstorms swept through the valley Monday afternoon between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., meteorologists said.

The official rainfall total at McCarran International Airport was 0.31 of an inch. That brings the total annual rainfall so far this year to 3.2 inches, a tenth of an inch more than usual.

As storms go, Monday's was not as intense as it could have been, Clark County Regional Flood Control District spokeswoman Betty Hollister said. One reason the downpour didn't do damage was that it swept through quickly rather than lingering in one place, she said.

In addition, the county's many flood control facilities -- 62 detention basins and 320 miles of channels and underground storm drains -- did their part, Hollister said.

"One detention basin captured 10 feet of water," she said. "So we know those facilities worked and helped minimize the effect of the storm."

There were people, however, who were caught in flood control channels. Authorities warn people not to be in the channels, but the homeless still often stay in the channels.

Clark County Fire Capt. Greg Cassell and Capt. Leo Durkin rescued two homeless men in separate efforts during the height of the storm.

One man was asleep along a dry wash northeast of Cassell's team's station located at Oquendo Road near Decatur Boulevard. The other was snatched from the floodwaters that washed him out of a camp under a bridge at Flamingo Road and Rio Drive.

"They're very lucky," Cassell said of the men.

Three swift-water rescues occurred within a 45-minute period at Charleston Boulevard and Hualapai Avenue, Flamingo Road and Swenson Avenue and Rainbow Boulevard and Spring Valley Drive.

A swift-water rescue at 3:30 p.m. on Tropicana Avenue and Industrial Road began after a passer-by saw a man swept down the wash.

"A man we think lives in the wash either fell in or was in there when the water swept through," Cassell said. "He was swept about half a mile and went under Industrial about 15 feet in."

Firefighters cut through a fence to get to the wash and lowered a ladder for the man, but he climbed out himself.

It was the first time the team had rescued anyone since two swift water rescues in Imperial Palace's parking garage on the Las Vegas Strip last Christmas Day, Cassell said.

"Everyone's accounted for," Durkin said late Monday.

Cassell sounded a word of warning.

"One thing I can say is, don't try to drive in the water or walk around these washes when it's flooding like this," Cassell said. "This always happens, you know, people think they can get through it. They think they are the exception. People driving need to just stop and pull over. People walking need to stay out of it. It's easy to lose your footing. All this happens so much faster than people realize."

Motorist Nichole Davis, 28, a northwest Las Vegas resident, pulled her blue Ford Explorer off of West Lake Mead Boulevard into a parking lot at a Chevron station at North Tenaya Way.

"My car would probably make it, but people are skidding and the lightning's so bad it scared me enough to pull over here," Davis said. "I mean, I couldn't see anything it's raining so hard. I'm in no rush."

The rain drew some people to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, where the rain created a different view of the area.

Red Rock's 13-mile scenic loop was closed by the Bureau of Land Management because of intense lightning and the danger of flash flooding.

For Sam and Karen Galster, who live in Syracuse, N.Y., but come yearly to Las Vegas on vacation, the silvery stream trickling beneath a Red Rock Canyon viewpoint was breathtaking.

"I've never seen water in it (the dry bed)," Sam Galster said. "This is really cool."

In 1999 the couple got caught on the Las Vegas Strip in the July 8 storm, considered a 100-year flood for the entire valley.

"It took five hours to get home," Karen Galster said, noting they were living in Henderson at that time.

It's been a cold summer with lots of rain in Syracuse this year. "So we came here for the sun and it rains," Sam said, with a smile.

Cliff Pappas, who with his wife Gay, were visiting Las Vegas from Phoenix, said he was at the Las Vegas Convention Center during the storm.

"It was like a river," Pappas said of the street flooding on Paradise Road and Convention Center Drive. "It sounded like a war zone," he said of the crashing thunder.

Yvette and Jimmy Acosta of Puerto Rico spent the morning touring Hoover Dam.

"Just a few sprinkles at the dam, nothing much," Yvette Acosta said.

"And now we're here and more rain," Jimmy Acosta said. The couple said they planned to drive to the Grand Canyon today.

David and Arlene Cooperchinski, who live in Summerlin, said there had been "lots of rain, but no flooding."

Sun reporters Molly Ball and Christina Littlefield contributed to this story.

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