Senator talks about flood |

Senator talks about flood

Sheila Gardner

One of the lessons learned in the aftermath of last year’s devastating flooding is the need for what Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nevada, calls a “working protocol.”

“Each federal agency has different requirements,” Bryan said in a recent telephone interview from his Las Vegas office. “FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) can do certain things, the Army Corps of Engineers can do certain things. Each is different.

“An important lesson we learned is that we should make sure we compile an emergency operations manual so we’re immediately aware of who can do what,” Bryan said. “Overall, I think the federal response was excellent. The delays resulted from figuring out who’s going to match what and that sort of thing.”

Bryan said he believes every agency – from county through federal level – is better prepared should such a flood reoccur.

“We’re clearly better prepared this year than we were last,” Bryan said. “Everybody has gone through the drill, recognizing the enormous risk that is ever present.”

Bryan recalled a turbulent flight in a small airplane over flooded western Nevada last year.

“When the floods hit, the Reno airport was closed. FEMA could not get into Reno or Northern Nevada. We scurried about and got a National Guard plane to fly from Las Vegas, where I was, to Oakland to pick up the FEMA person. Then, in very, very stormy weather, we flew across the Sierra in this little plane, bouncing around in the sky,” Bryan said.

“The next day we flew over Minden and Gardnerville. It was bitter cold,” he said. “I remember seeing one piece of equipment in the river. All the Ranchos was flooded. I could not see from the air where the Carson River channel was.”

Bryan had high praise for the response to the flood emergency.

“I was in Las Vegas when my Reno office notified me that the situation looked very grim and was deteriorating. That’s when the magnitude was beginning to register with me. I was a freshman at the University of Nevada, Reno in 1955 when the last big flood occurred. Having seen that, I had some concept that the water could really rise out of the stream bed on both sides of Virginia Street.

“In my assessment, it was a very rapid response by the federal government. Despite the massive flooding throughout the west, we got the national FEMA administrator to come in to western Nevada. Our next thing to do was to mobilize the federal agencies to find out what we needed to do to get everybody rallied. In that sense, (rural area director) Tom Baker was just wonderful. He was just everywhere,” Bryan said.

Bryan couldn’t let the flood anniversary pass without talking about the response of volunteers.

“It was just incredible,” he said. “In this day and age, we lament the absence of community. You can go a year and never know the fellow down the street. But at times of crisis, there is this reservoir of help that the American people summon up. It’s just overwhelming. The response speaks well for the community.”

Could the New Year’s Flood of 1997 repeat itself?

“Of course it could happen again,” said state climatologist John James.

“Could it happen two years in a row? Well, could you go down to a Megabucks machine, put one dollar in and win?”

The conditions which set the stage for last year’s flood – a heavy snowpack, warm temperatures and rain – failed to materialize so far this year. In fact, James said, Nevada is very dry for this time of year.

“December was very dry,” James said. “Nevada received half or less than normal precipitation. It was a lot different last year. By this time, we had two or three times normal.

“This is pretty much statewide,” James said. “It’s dry in the entire state.

“January is normally the wettest month in the water year. We just got throw blowing December. If January is not wet, we’ll really be shooting from behind,” James said.