Receding waters ease flood fears in Southern Utah

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ST. GEORGE -- Fears of widespread damage from storms in southern Utah are receding along with the flood waters.

Families in Southern Utah have been on edge Wednesday as officials monitored flooding in the region, but Washington County spokesman Marc Mortensen said most of the danger was isolated to flash floods in dry washes and streambeds in the northern part of the county.

Damage to homes was limited to some flooded basements in Enterprise.

A swollen Virgin River tributary that had threatened to wash away a New Harmony bridge that provided the only way to get in and out of a subdivision had receded significantly by Wednesday night. Residents, who had been under a voluntary evacuation order for most of Wednesday, are being allowed to use the bridge.

Some small bridges were destroyed in the flooding.

Officials toured all the problem areas in the county by helicopter Wednesday morning. They say as a whole, the flood waters are staying within their banks.

"We are very appreciative of the efforts of everyone who has helped manage the effects of this flood to date," said Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith. "We are grateful no lives have been lost."

He asked local residents to continue to be vigilant because, "the storm isn't over, yet."

Residents in New Harmony evacuated

Worry levels seem to rise and fall with the water level coming down Ash Creek in New Harmony. The bridge there is in danger of washing away. It may not seem like much, but it's the only bridge leading to a subdivision on the other side.

St. George police spokesman Johnny Heppler says residents of about 25 homes have been told to evacuate or prepare to shelter in place. There is a shelter set up in town for those who choose to evacuate.

We spoke with one resident who said she plans on staying put. "I mean we might get stranded there. I don't think we're in any danger of flooding, but whether we can come and go, I don't know," she said.

Officials say if the bridge does wash away, it would likely take up to five days to get a replacement in place.

New Harmony has about 500 homes and is located 40 miles north of St. George.

Rain stopped overnight

A light drizzle was falling in St. George Wednesday afternoon, but heavier rain is now falling.

Rain stopped and water levels dropped 6 to 7 feet overnight. Authorities welcomed the break in rain because the St. George area already has received 11 inches of precipitation since last Thursday. An additional 2-4 inches of rain is in the forecast.

Water raged through Southgate Golf Course and spilled over walking trails normally surrounded by dry land. Roads throughout Washington County were submerged in water; some even shut down.

Shoal Creek, a normally dry wash, was more than 80 percent full of runoff water. Riverside Drive reopened overnight and authorities say work on the riverbeds following the 2005 flooding seem to be holding up.


"The news is good. Obviously we're very relieved it's not worst case scenario," said Washington County Commissioner Jim Eardley.

St. George city says 1450 South remains closed next to the Summit Club until mud is removed from the road. Crews worked overnight near the Santa Clara Bridge, clearing debris with backhoes.

The city also is working to resolve a water outage in the Little Valley area and some parts of Bloomington Hills. Water service has been or will soon be restored. Residents with brown water running from taps should call the water department at 627-4800.

Flooding wiped out one of two bridges to the southern Utah town of Gunlock, and Iron County confirmed at least one bridge has been breached near Enterprise. Others have water near the road level.

Jim Jessop with the Forrest Service says the roadway near the new bridge at the Enterprise Reservoir turnoff is being washed away. It is closed and they're bringing in barricades.

Sandbags have been dispersed to all areas and are available from the Hurricane Police Department and Hurricane Fire Station 1 at 202 E. State St.

Authorities are keeping residents up-to-date via Twitter. They are cautiously optimistic Wednesday and keeping a very close eye on the situation.

The community of Rockville near Zion National Park was evacuated Tuesday in anticipation of the failure of the Trees Ranch Dam, causing a scare in southern Utah. Residents were allowed back home after engineers declared the dam safe Tuesday evening.

Engineers say the water coming from the dam is clear -- an indication there is no erosion from the dam.

Pet evacuation information released

The Utah Emergency Animal Response Coalition has been deployed to help with the Washington County flooding. It is prepared to help evacuate, shelter and feed both large and small animals affected.

An animal shelter has been set up at the Washington County Fairgrounds at 5300 W. Highway 9 in Hurricane.

Conditions may worsen

Water levels in the Virgin and Santa Clara Rivers are expected to exceed the water levels seen during the flooding of 2005. They have already swelled and receded 3 feet.

The Virgin River level in Zion National Park early Tuesday morning was 5,000 feet per second (CFS) and was predicted to reach 8,000 CFS Tuesday afternoon. Normal CFS at this time of year is 40-50, and the highest level ever recorded was 9,150 CFS in 1966, according to park officials.

While there has been severe flooding in the area in the past decade, officials said Tuesday's circumstances are more complicated.

"We're dealing with a whole different set of dynamics," said Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith.

"We want people to understand that that is what we are planning for. This is worst case scenario," he said. "We've got 24 to 36 hours of trying to get through all this so we are going to need everybody's help. We are going to survive this. We are going to make it."

While residents saw a "lull" Tuesday night, the storm is picking up new life Wednesday and create more troubles for already swollen rivers and dams in Washington County before it moves out.

"As the storm continues we're going to be watchful and vigilant and hopefully everyone will be fine," said Eardley.

The NWS said the Virgin River would crest again near Virgin at 3 p.m. Wednesday, and the Santa Clara River would peak near St. George at 10 p.m. Wednesday. In Bloomington, near the confluence of the two rivers just south of St. George, the water was expected to crest at 1 a.m. Thursday.

Zion National Park makes plans to reopen

Zion National Park was closed on Tuesday as a precaution due to rising river levels and the threat of damage to roadways, trails, and other infrastructure. All visitors including guests at the Zion Lodge and Watchman Campground were evacuated safely on Tuesday.

Administrators say the park is set to partially reopen unless flooding on the Virgin Rivers gets worse.

Park officials said in a news release Wednesday that the Zion Lodge and Watchman Campground will also reopen Thursday. The south entrance and the visitor center opened Wednesday afternoon.

State Route 9 will remain closed from the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive to the east entrance. The highway closed Monday after a 300-foot section was washed out by heavy rain.

The national park closed Tuesday and evacuated lodge guests and campers because of flooding.


Story written with contributions from Randall Jeppesen, Anne Forester, The Associated Press and the DMC News Division.


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