Southwest mops up after heavy rains force rescues - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Southwest mops up after heavy rains force rescues

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Construction crews work on a flood damaged area of Interstate 15 Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, near Moapa, Nev. Flood damage caused the closure of the interstate which is the main road between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/John Locher) Construction crews work on a flood damaged area of Interstate 15 Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, near Moapa, Nev. Flood damage caused the closure of the interstate which is the main road between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/John Locher)

MOAPA, Nev. (AP) — The Southwest was mopping up Tuesday after pouring rains and flash flooding washed out part of a major rail line between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City; swelled a river so high that a Utah national park downstream was briefly shuttered; and closed a 50-mile stretch of heavily traveled Interstate 15 when soggy pavement crumbled.

The cleanup began after seasonal monsoon moisture combined with the remnants of Tropical Storm Norbert to dump heavy rain throughout the Southwest and set a single-day rainfall record in Phoenix.

The sun was out Tuesday in the small, southern Nevada town of Moapa In Nevada, where officials had feared that rushing water would overwhelm the banks of the swollen Muddy and Virgin rivers.

"We saw it right at the cusp and it didn't go over," said Erin Neff, spokeswoman for the Clark County Regional Flood Control District. "It's a near-miss."

At least 30 homes in nearby Overton were flooded, and Clark County firefighters counted 18 rescues in the area, many involving submerged cars.

"I've been in this area since 1978. We've never had water like that before," said David Muns, a resident of Moapa, where more than four inches of rain fell in two hours.

Transportation officials said a stretch of I-15 near Moapa could be closed for three to four days while they repair pavement that crumbled into slabs over muddy red dirt. One shattered section stretched for half a mile.

Traffic was diverted along detours that added time and miles for the 20,000 vehicles a day that travel the highway connecting Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.

Truck driver Randy Garca of Calhan, Colorado, said he hit a standstill Monday afternoon and didn't get rolling again until the next morning.

"We were hungry so we set up a barbecue," he said by phone from Cedar City, Utah.

Union Pacific Railroad service was suspended while crews repaired track near Moapa that was undermined and washed out by flash flooding. Officials hoped to have the track bed and rails repaired by Wednesday for freight service to resume on the busy Las Vegas-to-Salt Lake City main line.

In southern Utah, rangers at Zion National Park turned away visitors for several hours Tuesday when heavy rain and a surging river made park routes impassable. Mud, debris and a boulder blocked Route 9, the road through the main canyon.

Wet weather also took its toll on neighboring states.

Freeways in Phoenix became small lakes on Monday and rescuers scrambled to get drivers out of inundated cars after more than 3 inches of rain fell.

"We've never seen this," Mesa, Arizona, resident Greg Montierth said. "Arizona deals with sand and cactus and heat. We're not set up for it so I can understand why everybody's scrambling at the last minute."

Cars also were stranded near Palm Springs and in the Coachella Valley in Southern California.

On an I-15 overpass in the Moapa area, police officer Shanan Kelly said he and several construction workers helped rescue a woman who was swept into rushing water from the top of her minivan.

"It was very heroic and awesome," Kelly said.

Forty-two people were evacuated from a middle school and high school in Moapa and spent Monday night in a building at Clark County fairgrounds. Churches provided blankets, and a store and restaurant donated food before police escorted the people over the damaged I-15, according to Clark County spokeswoman Stacey Welling.

About 190 people were evacuated from the Moapa Band of Paiutes reservation after tribal officials warned that waters were close to breaching a Muddy River dam. Officials were assessing damage to properties with leaky roofs and wet floors where water breached flood control channels.

"We had rivers running through people's yards. But as far as property damage to homes themselves, I think we fared pretty well," said Sherryl Patterson, administrator at the tribal office.

National Weather Service meteorologist Charlotte Dewey warned that any additional precipitation in the Southwest could quickly cause new flooding because the ground is saturated.

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Associated Press writers Paul Davenport and Alina Hartounian in Phoenix, and Michelle Price in Salt Lake City contributed to this report. Rindels reported from Las Vegas.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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