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'Phenomenal storm' floods many parts of Southern Utah

But residents also express gratitude for the moisture

ST. GEORGE — After six years of drought, southern Utah got walloped this week with a 10-year storm that saturated the ground and caused flooding in numerous locations.

"We've got skirmishes going on all over the place," said Dean Cox, emergency services director for Washington County. "It's been a phenomenal storm. Of course, it would be nice if we could get the rain just the way we want it, but this storm is bringing us more good than bad."

Virtually every river crossing in the county was washed out, which poses a potentially serious problem for this weekend's deer hunters, Cox said.

"The biggest chance we've got for someone to get hurt is from people going out deer hunting or driving and thinking they can make it through a stream," said Cox, who spent much of the past three days keeping an eye on the rapidly rising Virgin and Santa Clara rivers. "But that's dangerous, since you can't adequately address the depth of the creek or the velocity of the stream."

A few homes in the small town of Brookside were evacuated Thursday after water flowed into Baker Reservoir so rapidly it caught some people by surprise.

"We had someone watching it, and the water level went up about 15 vertical feet in six hours," Cox said. "That's really quite fast. The water was close to going over the spillway, so we went up and knocked on doors about 2 a.m. to warn people."

Gunlock Reservoir, another popular fishing and boating spot in the county, had dried up so much over the past couple of years that rangers were forced to move the boat ramp near the middle of the lake.

"I flew over the reservoir, and it's really quite a funny sight to see the boat ramp right in the middle of the lake. They'll just have to drag it back out," he said. "But this is great. The reservoirs are filling up, and it'll be water we can use next year."

During the height of the storm, the Virgin River surged from its normal six inches deep to an incredible 15 feet of rushing, muddy, red water. The river also grew wider, pushing close to homes in new subdivisions in the once agricultural fields of Washington city.

Ditches and culverts blocked with weeds, willow trees, tamarisks and other debris caused some of the flooding reported in the county. Homes built in flood plains were either in danger of flooding or did flood, he said.

"That type of flooding is very, very common, especially since we've been in a drought for six years," said Cox,. "This storm is really cleaning the river channels out. That's a good thing."

Enterprise resident and longtime rancher Lee Bracken was at the town firehouse Thursday evening, helping those who needed it.

"We are really grateful for the rain and wish we had more of it," Bracken said. "We've had a few homes get a few wet spots, but there's no real flooding that I'm aware of. The ground is getting saturated and soaked. The rain is very, very welcome."


E-mail: nperkins@desnews.com