OVERTON - Flood waters rose in one small Southern Nevada community Wednesday even as evacuated residents of nearby towns returned to their homes to assess the damage from storm-swollen creeks and rivers.
Rising waters on the Muddy River forced more Overton residents to evacuate overnight, and authorities said the threat of flooding would remain until late Wednesday afternoon.
An estimated 100 homes were damaged, destroyed or cut off by flooding in the Overton area, a desert hamlet near Valley of Fire State Park about 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. There were no reports of injuries.
A police helicopter had to rescue three people early Wednesday after they became trapped in their cars and homes.
Roaring waters snatched 21 freight cars from a Union Pacific train that had been parked along the Meadow Valley Wash near the border of Clark and Lincoln counties, said John Bromley, company spokesman. One car was carrying appliances, and the rest were empty.
The 54-car train had been parked since last week when a bridge washed out about 30 miles south of Caliente, Bromley said.
A series of wet winter storms dumped steady rain and snow on the southern part of the state for more than a week, saturating the ground and pushing creeks and rivers over their banks in small communities along the Nevada-Arizona-Utah border.
As skies cleared and temperatures warmed, snowpacks began melting and excessive runoff wreaked havoc on downstream communities.
Officials in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, declared an emergency in response to the flooding and avalanche dangers at Mount Charleston. Sixty-six homes were threatened by shifting snow on the mountain about 45 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Overton resident Melanie Vallet said her family was forced to flee their home early Wednesday when water reached the front door. Sandbags sat as the family's lone defense against the surging water.
"The family, the dogs, the chickens - everyone's safe," Vallet said.
About 700 head of cattle have been stranded in nearby Moapa Valley without food for three days. State officials were working to deliver feed by helicopter.
Authorities estimated about 350 homes were evacuated in Overton and the nearby communities of Moapa and Glendale.
Shelters were set up at Moapa Valley High School and a center for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Near Overton, in the resort town of Mesquite, a feeling of relief set in Wednesday after predictions of surging water failed to develop over night.
"We dodged the bullet," said Mayor Bill Nicholes. "We prepared for the worst, and prayed for the best. And the good Lord blessed us."
The Virgin River, which flows from Utah, surged about a foot and a half overnight, but quickly receded. Earlier water surges flooded about 40 homes and garages in Mesquite and forced several dozen residents to be evacuated.
Many were staying at nearby casinos until authorities could inspect their homes. Power was shut off to about 75 homes late Tuesday after water submerged transformers.
A few miles north in Beaver Dam, Ariz., residents began returning to some 1,400 homes cut off Tuesday when raging waters washed out a section of road at the Beaver Dam Wash bridge
Road crews opened a rugged road providing a 22-mile detour to the area, which remained without electricity or telephone service.
Jennifer McNally, a Mohave County, Ariz., health department official and spokeswoman for the incident command center, said 22 homes in Beaver Dam and nearby Littlefield, Ariz., had been damaged or destroyed by flooding.
Damage was expected to be in the millions, she said.
"I am just glad that no one's been injured so far," said Linda Whittier, 55, as she and her husband prepared to drive the detour road home.
Harold Whittier, 58, said he watched a house swept away when flood waters rose Tuesday.
"I heard it go, kaboom. The roof was floating," he said.
In eastern Nevada, a 115-mile stretch of State Route 93 between the eastern Nevada towns of Panaca and Alamo was shut down after two bridges spanning the Meadow Valley Wash were washed out.
Kim Evans of the state Department of Public Safety said the National Guard was mobilized to provide help in Lincoln County, where about 60 homes in the Caliente area reported flood damage. Authorities have evacuated 600 people due to flooding.