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Flood preparation helped make the difference

Holly Atchison

The New Year’s Flood of 1997 hit the Carson Valley with a vengeance, but it was not a surprise attack. Valley officials began planning and preparing for the event days before the rain even began, said Dick Mirgon, director of communications and emergency management.

“About this time last year, we had gotten information that there may be a series of wet storms coming out of the Pacific,” he said.

Once the storm, called the Pineapple Express, was identified as coming toward the area by the National Weather Service, Mirgon talked to Douglas County Manager Dan Holler and began to plan, making phone calls and getting things into place.

“We were able to get sand and sandbags not only distributed but filled,” he said. “We were also able to set up an emergency operations center, along with staffing and volunteers.”

At the same time, Mirgon also had another event to deal with – the New Year’s Eve celebration at Stateline. The communication and emergency management department helps with this event every year. He headed up to Lake Tahoe after all preparations for the flood had been done.

The rain poured down in the crowd gathered at the Lake. When the celebration wound down around 3 a.m., Mirgon returned to the Carson Valley for more sandbagging. Flooding had already begun.

“They had a pretty good idea where it starts to flood in the Valley, so they started placing sandbags in places that are problematic,” he said of the volunteers who came to help.

One of the biggest problems caused by the abundance of rains was the closure of several main roads such as Jacks Valley Road, Centerville Lane, Mottsville Lane and Riverview.

“Most of the roads were open in a matter of days, again with a cooperative effort of Nevada Department of Transportation, county roads and private citizens,” said Brett Reed, Douglas County road maintenance superintendent.

The last road to reopen, Mottsville Lane, was delayed because of paperwork, Reed said. The road opened in mid-October after the bridge was replaced.

With the delivery of sand and the work done by private citizens and NDOT, keeping most of the roads open was possible, Reed said.

“If it had not been for private citizens, we wouldn’t have been able to keep it open,” he said. “With everybody’s help, we were able to minimize the closures.”

From Fish Springs to Ruhenstroth to Gardnerville to Genoa, people came to offer help in any way possible. Reed said he received help filling and distributing sandbags and also donation of equipment from private citizens.

“Our biggest problem was that we had more volunteers than we knew what to do with,” Mirgon said. “We had a lot of volunteers helping, not only individuals but organizations.”

A year later, the Carson Valley is still recovering from the flood.

“Work is being done on the river, homes are being elevated, drainage ditches are being drained and, at the same time, we are planning for this winter,” Mirgon said.

Reed said channels are being cleared and flood studies are being conducted in the Autumn Hills and Ruhenstroth areas to help eliminate some of the impact on the residents.

Both Mirgon and Reed said there have been some improvements made to make the recovery from another flood more efficient.

“I think in some areas we would be better prepared – communication, equipment sources and material sources,” Reed said.

Sandbags are already filled and communication with other agencies is prepared. Sandbags and equipment have been placed throughout the county.

Internal training, revamping procedures and streamlining paperwork are some of the new changes the communication and emergency management department has been working on, Mirgon said. Another change is to preassign workers to areas to eliminate the long hours acquired last year. He said this idea is more of a dream than a reality, though.

“The majority of our plan is to do it the same way we did last year, but improve the flow of paper work,” Mirgon said. “We did a hell of a good job last year. The community was out there supporting us and the feedback that I got was great.

“The operational sight that occurred in the community could not have gotten any better, from my personal point of view.”

Mirgon said he is looking forward to not having to deal with two things at once this New Year’s holiday. But, he said, the county will be ready if another flood strikes again.

“We call them slow floods for a reason – they’re slow. They create the opportunity to be well-prepared.”