(AP/KSL News) -- After getting his first look at the destruction from flooding in southern Utah, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch said he had no doubt that damage totals will rise past $150 million.
"It's unbelievable," the Utah Republican said after a helicopter tour of the damage in and around Washington County on Saturday.
Federal officials have put the early damage estimate at $86 million, but admitted that mostly is for public infrastructure items, things like bridges and roads.
"I think if you count homes, it's well over $150 million," Hatch told The Associated Press by telephone Saturday night.
Officials believe that roughly 50 homes have either been swept away or condemned because of severe damage when the Virgin and Santa Clara rivers flooded earlier this week. One person was killed in the flooding, and at least five bridges were closed after being washed out or loosed from their footings.
Hatch said he was amazed that Utah, the second driest state in the union, could have so much land torn up by runoff.
He said he also was amazed when he saw how the Santa Clara and Virgin rivers had made new courses for themselves in the flooding.
The flood damage in St. George is not only getting a lot of attention from volunteers and insurance companies, many curious people are stopping by to get a look.
Police say unless you live in the flood damaged area, or are a volunteer, please stay away.
Craig Harding, St. George Police Dept.: “We are literally spending thousands of dollars in traffic and crowd control, and we shouldn’t have to do that.
St. George police say all the police wanting to see the damage are creating a problem.
Craig Harding, St. George Police Dept.: “Chunks are falling off, and it’s an active dynamic situation. It’s a dangerous situation. You’ve got to stay back, we are going to arrest you for your own good.”
On the other hand, lots of people in those communities are there to help.
Hundreds of volunteers spend their Saturday helping flood victims. Boxes and other personal items had to be moved to storage sheds.
One Green Valley neighborhood had some of the worst damage from rising water. Several homes are still hanging on the edge where the river carved a new path.
Helen Harrison/Volunteer: “Oh! Cause you love the people. And if you need help, you’d want someone to come help you, don’t you think?”
Decker Landis /Volunteer: “These people need help. You gotta do what you can for your neighbors. They do the same thing for us, so we are just here to return the favor.”
Some residents found out it was o-k to move back in, and spent the day trying to return things to normal.
For residents in Matoqua and Gunlock, the bridge leading to their towns is still being worked on. Those communities are going to remain isolated a few more days, maybe weeks, until temporary repairs are made.
County, state and Federal Emergency Management Agency assessment teams expect to complete their evaluation of damages this weekend. Their final report will be submitted to the White House along with a request for a federal disaster declaration.
President Bush's decision could be weeks away. If he approves the declaration, federal housing loans and temporary assistance funds could be immediately available.
Hatch also praised the help neighbors are giving neighbors despite some people experiencing a tremendous amount of grief.
"You expect no less from Utahns, but the community support and the volunteerism I've seen down here is the best I've ever seen," he said.
The search continued today for the body of the man swept away by rushing water. Dive crews say his body may have washed down river into the Quail Creek reservoir near Hurricane.
It is believed he tried to cross an overflowing river in his car. He got out and was swept away.
Rescue crews say they are doing their best to find the man's remains.
Chief Lynn Excell, Hurricane Police Dept. “It’s an absolute tragedy. And we are trying to do everything we can to bring closure to the family.”
The man lived in Southern Utah and was in his sixties.
Crews are using underwater sonar technology to try to locate his body.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story)