As flooding subsides, Overton residents return home

OVERTON - Cynthia Nelson, schoolteacher and mom, nervously waited early Thursday for word she could return home after fleeing in the dead of night as the Muddy River raged out of control.

The wife of the volunteer fire chief in this small farming and ranching community about 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas heard that her home had fared better than most. Still, Nelson was worried.

"Until you can see it yourself, you don't know," said Nelson, 44.

For two days the residents of Overton had been preparing for the worst, filling sandbags and trying to shore up drainage areas as the Muddy River surged with excessive run-off from recent Western storms and flooded dozens of area homes.

At the height of the roaring river waters, county officials said some 250 homes were evacuated in Overton and the nearby communities of Logandale, Moapa and Glendale. Authorities were unsure how many were flooded and said it was too early for damage estimates. None of the homes in the area was thought to have been destroyed, and there were no injuries.

Gov. Kenny Guinn declared a flood emergency in Clark County and headed to Overton to survey the damage.

What he found was a scene repeated throughout the community of 4,500 tight-knit residents.

After crews cleared debris from an access road, Nelson and her family hopped in their truck and headed home, a short distance from the river.

"We're OK," a relieved Nelson said after surveying her house. "I can breathe a big sigh of relief."

The sandbags out front had held up, preventing an ooze of water and mud from invading Nelson's home.

Her neighbors to the east, the Gonzales family, were not as fortunate.

Sitting on lower ground, the Gonzales's had 5 inches of water in their house and 10 inches in their garage.

Neighbors, including the Nelsons, stopped by throughout the day to help the family rip up carpet, shovel mud from the front lawn and pump water out of the driveway.

"It's usually how we do things," Nelson said with shovel in hand. "A family's in trouble, the town's in trouble. You show up."

As residents began the cleanup, authorities warned of sewer and sanitation problems, saying flood waters can carry diseases and people should wash after contact with them.

Area schools remained closed.

Some residents who returned home Thursday turned around and sought shelter at a Red Cross emergency center that had to be reopened, said Carolyn Levering, emergency operations center manager in Las Vegas.

"People are coming back home and finding they're not in a livable condition," Levering said of the flooded houses.

As the river surged early Wednesday, water spilled through the northeastern part of town along Cooper Street, inundating the residential area of usually tidy half-acre lots.

On Thursday, paved roads were invisible under a blanket of mud. High-water marks were visible 2 to 3 feet up the exterior walls of homes. Lawns were mud fields.

"I wanted to move somewhere warm, without rain. Instead I get floods," resident Don Toulouse said half-jokingly.

Toulouse, 51, a Nevada Power employee, had moved to Overton about a year ago from Elko, a northeast Nevada town that averages more than 2 feet of snow each winter.

Despite the cleanup, Toulouse said he will continue remodeling his home, which made it through mostly unscathed. The garage was flooded after some sandbags fell over, and a chain-link fence in back toppled over under the weight of rushing water and debris.

Toulouse said he felt grateful for the support of his neighbors, who helped pump water from his garage.

"The people were really good. They look out for each other. It's a very close-knit community," Toulouse said.

Longtime resident Debbie Hardy has lived through four floods in the past 25 years and discovered the secret to staying dry was building a 6-foot-tall cinderblock wall around her house.

Hardy said she came to realize flooding was inevitable in the area, a flood plain downstream from southern Utah's mountains and just north of Lake Mead.

"When we got hit the first time, we thought that was it," said Hardy, 47, a Nevada Power employee. "Now we don't say it's the last one. We say it's just until the next one."

It was a disastrous first time for Mike Hanley, a single father who recently moved to town seeking a slower pace from the manic lights of Las Vegas. Although his home was flooded, Hanley will not consider moving away.

"I love it here," Hanley said. "It's such a nice little town. I'd rather figure out how to deal with this (than move)."

As he spoke, neighbors filed into his home to help rip up carpet and pump water from the front lawn. Thinking about the outpouring of support from the community caused mixed emotions.

"It's like I want to cry over the house, but I'm so happy I have friends and neighbors like this," Hanley said.


Associated Press writer Ken Ritter contributed to this report.


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