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Vegas Hit by 100-Year Flood

Worst Storm in possibly in 100 years turns streets into rivers

(MSNBC staff and Wire Reports)

LAS VEGAS, July 9 — More flooding was feared Friday in Las Vegas, where a strong storm on Thursday created floods that smashed mobile homes, swallowed hundreds of cars and led to at least two deaths. Tourists sought shelter in casinos and hotels on the city's famed Strip as Las Vegas' airport recorded three inches of rain in just one hour.

Three inches isn't much for some places, but in Las Vegas' case it's almost what the city normally gets during an entire year.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Ron McQueen said three more inches could fall around Las Vegas on Friday. A light rain was already falling Friday morning.

Late Thursday, Gov. Kenny Guinn called the scene "a wide strip of devastation" after taking a helicopter tour of flooded areas.

Sections of busy Interstates 15 and 95 resembled a lake, bringing traffic to a standstill. Most major intersections were under water and block walls along a flood channel collapsed.
Emergency crews were trying to contain mudslides and boulder slides along a highway northwest of the city.


Firefighters on Thursday also rescued motorists whose cars were sucked into the water. "This is as serious as it gets," said Clark County Fire Department spokesman Steve La-Sky. "Our emergency dispatch switchboard is lit up."

He said hundreds of cars were trapped in high waters and at least four mobile homes had been lost. He didn't know the extent of damage to others.

"It was picking up cars and throwing them around like toothpicks," said Robert Anderson, who watched his neighbor's mobile home wash away. "It was a huge double-wide and it just went into the water and it just disintegrated."

The rain appeared to have led to the deaths of two people, a man whose body was found in a flood channel and a woman who died in a traffic accident, officials said.

"This ranks up there with one of the worst storms in quite some time," said Jim Harrison, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Las Vegas. "It's possibly the worst in 100 years. It's definitely the worst in the last 15 years."

By early afternoon, parts of Las Vegas Valley had received up to 3 inches of rain and more was expected. Usually, Las Vegas receives only 4.1 inches of rain all year.
McQueen said that even half an inch can cause flooding in Las Vegas since the rocky soil there doesn't absorb water well.

Roads under water in Las Vegas
Fri Jul 9 1999 10:38 EDT
Kelli Miller, (TWC)

Busy Las Vegas roadways remain closed today, after the worst thunderstorm in 15 years left the city under several feet of water. Heavy monsoon rains sent flood waters gushing into the entire Las Vegas Valley Thursday afternoon, sweeping away mobile homes and leaving hundreds of drivers stranded.

The storm is being blamed for at least two deaths. One woman died in a weather-related traffic accident; another man drowned in fast-moving flood waters.

"This ranks up there with one of the worst storms in quite some time," said Jim Harrison, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Las Vegas. "It's possibly the worst in 100 years."

Heavy rain will drench the Southwest again today. Mark Ressler, senior meteorologist at The Weather Channel says while the thunderstorms may not be as concentrated, they will produce heavy and persistent downpours. Flash flood watches remained in effect for the area Friday morning.

In just a single day, the rainfall total Thursday neared what the city would usually see in
one year. In Glendale, Nev., a 4-foot wall of water turned Route 168 near Highway 93 into a raging river. Storm spotters in Las Vegas noted more than 2 inches of rainfall in just over an hour.

The heaviest rain fell at McCarran International Airport, measuring three inches in one hour. Torrential downpours shut-down operations at the airport for 45 minutes.

With nowhere to go, many stranded motorists flocked to casinos to wait out the storm. Two major arteries, U.S. 95 and Interstate 15, were reduced to one open lane in some areas, backing up traffic for miles. Several off-ramps on both freeways were shut down.

Emergency officials say roads may be closed through the weekend.

Las Vegas says flood controls kept city out of troubled waters

By Robert Macy, The Boston Globe Associated Press, July 10,1999

LAS VEGAS - A flood control program that won't be finished for another 25 years prevented widespread disaster from storms that in two hours dumped nearly as much rain as the city sees all year, flood specialists said yesterday.

The $1.4 billion project is only 20 percent complete, but if Thursday's storm had happened a few years ago, ''it would have been a disaster to end all disasters,'' Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said.

Two deaths were attributed to the flash floods that sucked up cars, destroyed three mobile homes and damaged a casino, businesses and homes throughout the Las Vegas area.

Three inches of rain fell in the area, which sees an average of 4.1 inches a year.
Police and firefighters rescued 163 people from raging waters.

''I can't begin to estimate what would have happened if these flood controls were not in place,'' said Gale Fraser, general manager of the Clark County Regional Flood Control District. ''I know it would have been a lot worse. Prior to our being here, there was no place for that water to go.''

The system consists of 30 massive flood detention basins ranging in size from 10 acres to 80 acres. Fraser said one of the basins collected enough water to cover a football field 400 feet high.
''That water would have run rampant through the valley,'' Fraser said.

The basins collect water pouring off mountains surrounding the city, then release it slowly along channels and into Lake Mead.

The flood control project was initiated after devastating floods in 1975 and 1984. About $400 million has been spent so far, while another $1 billion worth of work is planned. An inch or more can fill dry washes that crisscross the valley.

This story ran on page A03 of the Boston Globe on 07/10/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.