There was a steady stream of speculation Saturday on what caused the breach in the dike at Quail Creek Reservoir.
But the theories weren't from engineers, state inspectors, or federal officials. They were from local residents - whole families in some cases - who came from St. George and surrounding communities to view firsthand what has become the main topic of conversation in southern Utah.One of the onlookers happily pronounced the dam site, 10 miles north of St. George, one of the area's main tourist attractions. Closed roads became parking lots, and hundreds of people trekked a half-mile or more to see what remained of a modern highway bridge washed away when the earthen dike gave way New Year's Eve.
The surging water tore a 200-foot-wide gap in the dike and rushed down the Virgin River toward Bloomington, flooding fields, killing livestock, and filling homes with mud.
Sightseers near the dike Saturday climbed sandstone hills and looked down into a new gorge carved by the torrent. A stream trickled through the bottom.Near the base of the dike, one man and his three children sat on a rock and dropped a line into one of many pools where fish were trapped. Another family took advantage of the bright afternoon sunshine to have a picnic on the rocks.
Kids scurried up sandstone rocks, ran down dirt roads and pocketed a chunks of sandstone as souvenirs of the adventure. Adults were just as fascinated as the children were with what they saw.
"It's a much bigger hole than it looked like in the paper," said Kathy McConkie, who came to the site with her husband Stan, two sons and a friend of the boys. It was the family's first chance to see what caused so much damage to theirneighbors' homes in Bloomington.
"The flood stopped about 300 feet from our home," said Stan McConkie. Sons Stanford, 13, and Marshall, 11, helped in the cleanup effort by shoveling mud and babysitting while their parents helped deliver food and other relief to neighbors. But curiosity was a problem, Kathy said. "There were so many cars with sightseers driving by, you couldn't get down the road."
The scene at the dike Saturday wasn't nearly as congested, although it was colorful. People of all ages made an outing of it, toting babies and pocket and video cameras. Several ignored "Keep Out by Order of Sheriff" signs and walked across the bedrock that had been covered by several feet of soil just two weeks before.
One retired couple who lives near Hurricane said they do a lot of hiking in the area and noticed water with soil being carried away the Saturday before the flood.
Other stories were told of kids taking handfuls of dead fish to school for show and tell.
Other stories, jokes and misinformation abounded as people freely gave their opinions as to what had caused the failure, who was at fault, and possible solutions. Some also expressed concern for the future.
Glenna Fehrer, a lifelong resident of St. George, visited the dike Saturday with her husband and teenage son. "This is a big thing for Washington County," she said, adding that the dike must be rebuilt.
Fehrer echoed the feelings of many who had an outing at the dam site this weekend, as well as the concern of area residents: "We do need the water."