| Rush of Water Leaves a Nevada Town in Anguish
| Monday, January 7, 2008
|FERNLEY, Nev. — With each squishy step she took Sunday morning on her saturated living room carpet, Becki Morales spotted more trouble. The floodwaters that rushed in after a levee broke on an irrigation canal early Saturday had largely receded in her one-story rental, but they left a sty of stained furniture, soaked power strips and damaged computer parts.
“It’s really not as bad as I thought it would be,” Mrs. Morales said before returning to the Super 8 Motel where her family had taken refuge. “Wow, I think we may have gotten lucky.”
The breach came after the area was drenched by heavy rains, part of larger storm systems that battered the West Coast over the weekend and were blamed for at least three deaths.
In Yuba County, Calif., a member of a public works crew, Milton Smith, 57, was killed on Friday night after being hit by a falling branch, according to a news release on the county’s Web site.
Another death was reported in San Bernardino County, Calif. Lindsey Marie Erickson, 25, died Sunday morning after accidentally driving her truck into a road flooded by the Santa Ana River in Chino, The Associated Press reported. A death was also reported in Oregon, The A.P. said.
About 220,000 California homes and businesses served by Pacific Gas and Electric continued to be without power. The utility said it had 600 crews working to restore electricity, along with about 80 contract crews from as far as Montana.
In Fernley, a growing bedroom community 30 miles east of Reno, Mrs. Morales was indeed among the fortunate merely by the fact that she was able to re-enter the home that she, her husband and their three small boys fled. After the dam broke around 4 a.m. Saturday, as many as 3,500 people were forced from more than 450 homes. Some were rescued by boat, others by helicopter.
Saturday brought state and federal disaster declarations and visits from Gov. Jim Gibbons and Representative Dean Heller, but Sunday was the day reality began to sink in. The displaced hitched rides with friends who had four-wheel-drive vehicles to get closer looks at their homes and stood in lines to fill out forms to register with the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The local authorities were still assessing the damage Sunday and were trying to determine the cause of the breach.
Dave Overvold, project manager of the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District, said he believed that a deluge overnight Friday shook loose an earthen dam on the Truckee Canal that may have been weakened by burrowing gophers. The district has a bounty on gophers, paying residents 50 cents each for killing them, because they do so much damage to the levees, Mr. Overvold said.
Just around the corner from Mrs. Morales’s house, Jennifer Basanti stared down the street at her home. She assumed it was inaccessible given that a stranded Southwest Gas utility truck sat paralyzed in front of it, with floodwaters still reaching higher than the truck’s wheel wells.
“At this point, frankly, everybody’s kind of lost,” said Ms. Basanti, 34, holding back tears and hugging her teenage daughter. “I can tell by where the water line is, there’s probably still three feet of water in the house right now. You want to get in there, you want to see, you want to get some stuff out.”
The bright sun and placid breeze on Sunday served as a strange counterpoint to the emerging anguish in Fernley, where virtually nobody has flood insurance.
“We live in the desert, you don’t think of that,” said Steve Weaver, a FedEx truck driver who lives on the same drenched street as Ms. Basanti.
Mr. Weaver and his wife, Cathy, had packed some clothes, critical medicine and an heirloom photograph of Mrs. Weaver’s mother on Saturday morning before trying to leave the house with his two daughters and four pets in a new Dodge Durango. The vehicle died in the water as they left, and they were rescued by another vehicle without any of their possessions. Two of their dogs are at a nearby shelter for displaced pets; the other dog and a cat are with friends. The Weavers are staying at the Super 8 Motel.
Fernley, which has 20,000 residents, up from 6,000 a decade ago, banded together instantly. The Lyon County Social Services Department, having held its first training session on how to set up a Red Cross disaster relief center only two months ago, put the lessons to action and set up at Fernley High School by Saturday afternoon. None of the evacuees slept there, though, because the Best Western donated rooms. A dozen families that had checked into the Super 8 were pleasantly surprised when a local businessman showed up with a $2,500 check to cover the lodging of any displaced people staying there. Most evacuees stayed with friends or family in the area, the authorities said.
At the high school on Sunday, Nicole Cornutt, 28, stared listlessly as she picked through donated clothes stacked on lunch tables in the cafeteria for something for her 7-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son.
Mrs. Cornutt and the children were rescued by helicopters from the nearby Fallon Naval Air Station as several feet of water rushed into their home Saturday. Her husband, Adam, evacuated in a rowboat with their cat and two dogs.
Mrs. Cornutt wiped away tears as Mr. Cornutt cataloged their lost possessions, including a century-old upright piano inherited from her great-grandmother and two new cars. They managed to move their computer to a high spot in their one-story home and are hopeful that some of Mrs. Cornutt’s work as a medical transcriptionist survives on the hard drive.
“We’ve never been in this situation,” a stricken Mrs. Cornutt said while going through the clothes. “We feel so weird doing this.”
Jesse McKinley contributed reporting from San Francisco.
|posted by Moderator Londen time 7:19 AM