Rising waters force evacuation of Overton

OVERTON - The last in a series of winter storms blew through Southern Nevada on Tuesday, leaving behind raging rivers and melting snow that forced dozens to flee their homes.

Under bright blue skies, muddy rivers roared through towns along the Nevada-Arizona-Utah border, flooding homes in the resort town of Mesquite and forcing the evacuation of about 100 people in nearby Overton. Authorities predicted surging waters would flow at flood levels through the night.

"We've got the bags packed," said Overton resident Jim Vallet, 50. "We're ready to go if we have to."

To the west, an avalanche warning forced the evacuation of 66 homes in the Mount Charleston area just two days after a wave of snow killed a 13-year-old boy at the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort.

Officials in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, declared an emergency in response to the flood and avalanche dangers.

"We're trying to stay on top of it," said Stacey Welling, county spokeswoman. "There's definitely a lot going on."

A series of wet winter storms have brought steady rain and snow to the southern part of the state for more than a week, saturating the ground and pushing creeks and rivers over their banks.

Rising waters forced authorities to evacuate residents of Overton's low-lying areas after concerns grew that the Muddy River, normally up to 8 feet wide, could swell to 200 feet across.

Residents were shuttled by bus to a shelter at a nearby center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After it filled to capacity, a second shelter was opened at Moapa Valley High School.

Emergency officials sent 45 tons of sand, 2,000 sandbags and emergency responders to the town.

"They say it's coming. I hope this all for nothing," said Tom Van Ausdal, 42, a volunteer firefighter who spent Monday night making sand bags in Overton, a desert hamlet near Valley of Fire State Park about 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

In nearby Mesquite, the rain-swollen Virgin River caused flooding in the northeast part of town. Most of the 12 flooded homes had water inside their garages. Four had extensive flooding inside.

"I've lived here all my life, and this is the biggest flood I've ever seen here," said Shem Teerlink, a 39-year-old contractor who was helping clean up a friend's flooded house in Mesquite.

The friend, Ron Marquardt, lives about one-fourth of a mile from the Virgin River. After the river crested about 2 a.m., Marquardt reported 16 inches of water in his garage and 10 inches inside. Most of his furniture was destroyed despite frantic efforts to place it on concrete blocks.

"I've got a big expense coming up to get everything back to normal," said Marquardt, 59, a recent retiree who moved to Mesquite last year from Maple Plain, Minn.

George Rapson, general manager of the CasaBlanca hotel-casino in Mesquite, said four or five holes of his resort's golf course had been swamped by water. Two holes were submerged.

"It's unbelievable," Rapson said. "It's impossible to grasp it. It's probably a half-mile wide now of running water."

Another surge of water was expected in the Virgin River late Tuesday into early today due to heavy rains in southwest Utah, forecasters said. Up to a foot above current flood conditions was expected.

A few miles north in Beaver Dam, Ariz., rushing waters ruined the 18-hole Hamilton Ranch Golf Course and wrecked several mobile homes, said course employee Donna Sullivan.

"Beaver Dam as we know it is gone," said Tim Stejskal, 53, another course employee.

No injuries were reported, but 14 houses were destroyed or washed away by floods in Beaver Dam. Eight houses in nearby Littlefield, Ariz., also were flooded.

Emergency crews were working to grade a 12-mile dirt road for about 1,400 residents in Beaver Dam who were cut off when the main road washed out at nearby bridge.

Meanwhile, Clark County officials said the threat of an avalanche in the Mount Charleston area was worsening. The U.S. Forest Service extended its avalanche warning until midnight tonight and warned people to avoid the area until conditions improved.

A series of three avalanches occurred Tuesday.


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