Published Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 | 8:24 a.m.
Updated Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 | 10:20 p.m.
A band of slow-moving thunderstorms accompanied by lightning bolts and record-setting drenching rain rumbled eastward across the Las Vegas Valley midday Tuesday, flooding streets, stranding motorists, collapsing a store roof, frustrating operations at McCarran International Airport and causing havoc on the freeways, including a traffic-halting sheet of slick mud on Interstate 215 near the Airport Connector.
The rainfall was the most for any September day since record keeping began in 1939, the National Weather Service said.
By day's end, the Clark County Fire Department had rescued about 50 people who were stranded in their vehicles due to rising flood waters, in some instances measuring several feet deep, said Dan Kulin, Clark County spokesman. The Nevada Highway Patrol reported twice the volume of accidents for an afternoon — 32 accidents, many of which were single vehicle crashes.
Late Tuesday, firefighters were going door to door advising residents of 45 homes on Walton Heath Avenue and Moortown Street to evacuate their homes for the night, Kulin said. Firefighters believe the flood damage to the homes near Vegas Valley Drive and Nellis Boulevard could cause electrical fires, Kulin said.
NV Energy officials said 1,500 homes were still without power as of 6:20 p.m. The Regional Justice Center in downtown Las Vegas was closed to non-essential business due to flooding. Courts information officer Mary Ann Price said full operations were expected to resume Wednesday morning.
The weight of accumulated rainfall caused a roof to cave in at a 7-Eleven convenience store near Fremont and Bruce streets, Las Vegas Fire and Rescue spokesman Tim Szymanski said. No one was injured but the store was closed.
The heaviest rain — 2.05 inches — was recorded near Smoke Ranch Road in northwest Summerlin, the National Weather Service reported. The region's official rainfall measure — taken at McCarran — totaled 1.18 inches by dusk.
Metro Police said the worst flooded intersections included Charleston Boulevard and Eastern Avenue, Swenson Street and Twain Avenue, Lamb Road and Stewart Avenue, Desert Inn Road and Topaz Street and Pollack Drive and Warm Springs Road.
Westbound traffic was restricted along Interstate 215 at the Airport Connector and, at one point, eastbound traffic had been closed from Interstate 15 to Warm Spring Road. Delays were still expected into the evening because of mud and debris.
The rain triggered accidents around the valley, including a three-vehicle collision on a ramp connecting I-215 and Eastern Avenue shortly before 1 p.m.
Landings at McCarran were suspended between about 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., said spokeswoman Linda Healey. Refueling of aircraft also was suspended during the heavy rainfall, causing a delay for some outbound flights, but refueling was resumed at 2:11 p.m.
Healey recommends travelers check McCarran's website to check on the status of flights.
Thunderstorms left about 13,000 NV Energy customers without power during the storms, said Jennifer Davies, a company spokeswoman. About 8,000 customers were without power in North Las Vegas for about 90 minutes. The other outages were scattered around the valley, and NV Energy crews continue to try to repair the outages, she said.
The rain also affected some of the valley’s schools and colleges, with UNLV reporting multiple instances of wet classrooms and offices. Outdoors, students floated around flooded parts of the campus in swimming pool inflatables.
The "Black Lot" parking area near UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center was knee-deep in water, UNLV officials said, and motorists were advised to avoid the area near the Tropicana Avenue garage into the evening. There was flooding on and around the campus but classes continued without interruption, officials said. Not far away, Swenson Street south of Flamingo road received 1.93 inches of rain.
J.D. Smith Middle School in North Las Vegas lost power and rising water threatened some portable classrooms, Clark County Schools spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said. The campus' evening classes were cancelled but the school was expected to reopen on Wednesday, she said.
Just before mid-afternoon, officials said the Regional Justice Center at 200 Lewis Ave. was closed to all non-essential business this afternoon due to flooding. In an email, Mary Ann Price 8th Judicial District Court Information Officer, said hazardous conditions existed due to standing water. She said cleanup was under way and full operations were expected to resume Wednesday morning. Those entering the center for essential business must enter though the south gate (Clark Avenue), she said.
A flash flood warning for the entire valley was allowed to expire at 5:45 p.m., but a flash flood watch remained in effect until 9 p.m.
Sun reporters Cristina Chang, Paul Takahashi and Brian Nordli contributed to this story.