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Utah to send $670K to polygamist town for flood prevention

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SALT LAKE CITY — A polygamist community on the Utah-Arizona border where at least a dozen people were swept away to their deaths in flash flooding last year will get help from Utah to build several ponds to collect rain runoff to help prevent another tragedy.

Utah's Permanent Community Impact Fund Board, which uses royalties from mineral and energy development to give communities grants and loans, voted at its monthly meeting Thursday to approve $670,000 for the city of Hildale.

The vote followed a short presentation from Hildale Mayor Philip Barlow, who said the three ponds will help protect several hundred homes in the flood plain.

The neighboring cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, are home to the Fundamentalist LDS Church, a secretive sect led by the now-imprisoned Warren Jeffs.

The majority of the 7,700 people living in the cities, including the women and children killed in the flash flooding, are believed to be members of the sect.

Under the terms of the agreement with the state, half of the money for the ponds will be a grant and the other half will be a loan, which Hildale will repay over 20 years, with interest.

That's on top of $1.5 million in emergency funds the state funneled to the community last October to build a 100-foot bridge across a flooded wash and construct culverts and canals near where the victims' vehicles were sitting when the floodwaters engulfed them and carried them several hundred yards downstream.

Barlow said the bridge and canal projects from October are complete. The city also plans to use about $1 million in federal money for a fourth retention pond.

Three women and 13 children were returning from a park when they stopped at a flooded crossing on a gravel road north of the cities to watch the gushing waters. They were inside a van and SUV when a wall of brown water surged out of a canyon above and carried away the vehicles. The cars were carried downstream and plunged into a flooded-out embankment, with one vehicle smashed beyond recognition.

Three young boys survived and one boy, who is presumed dead, is still missing. The bodies of 12 others were found miles away amid mud and debris.

Search teams were still looking for the body of the missing 6-year-old boy as recently as three or four months ago, Barlow said Thursday.

"Something should turn up eventually," he said.

Authorities have confirmed the deaths of 20 people in the southern Utah storms, including the 12 from the polygamous community, seven hikers who drowned in a narrow canyon in nearby Zion National Park and a man from nearby Hurricane.