Flooding washes away parts of major Nevada freeway

LAS VEGAS — Heavy rains and flash flooding throughout the Southwest washed away portions of heavily used Interstate 15 in Nevada, prompting state officials on Tuesday to close a nearly 50-mile stretch of the major trucking artery that runs between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.

Nevada transportation officials said the corridor could be closed for three to four days while they scramble to repair eroded pavement.

A detour added about 50 miles to the trip between the two major cities.

“I don’t think it can be overstated just how important I-15 is,” Utah Department of Transportation spokesman John Gleason said. “I would say the detours, in the best-case scenario, are not as convenient as I-15.”

Clark County Deputy Fire Chief Jon Klassen said the repairs could be difficult.

“It looks crazy broken to me,” he said.

Seasonal monsoon moisture combined with the remnants of Tropical Storm Norbert on Monday to dump rain throughout the Southwest and set a single-day rainfall record in Phoenix. Floodwaters submerged vehicles and homes in Nevada and Arizona and were blamed for at least two deaths in southern Arizona.

A woman died after her car was swept away and became trapped against a bridge in Tucson, and a 76-year-old woman drowned when her husband tried to drive across a flooded wash in Pinal County.

Freeways in Phoenix became small lakes and rescuers scrambled to get drivers out of inundated cars after more than 3 inches of rain fell. On Tuesday, many residents of the metro area focused on mop-up, while a flash-flood watch was issued for much of the rest of the state through the evening.

In Nevada, the brunt of the storm hit Moapa, a town of about 1,000 people in a sparsely populated rural area some 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. More than 4 inches of rain fell in the area within two hours, pushing the Muddy and Virgin rivers to near-flood stage.

“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.”

Klassen said no serious injuries were reported in the area, although crews performed a dozen or so rescues, including hoisting three teenage ATV riders from the floodwaters using a helicopter.

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.

“There’s a lot of mud. It’s wet. Roads have collapsed. But it looks a little brighter today,” said Sherryl Patterson, administrator at the Moapa tribal office. “We had rivers running through people’s yards. But as far as property damage to homes themselves, I think we fared pretty well.”

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 for freight service to resume on the busy the Las Vegas-to-Salt Lake City main line by Wednesday.

Wet weather took its toll on other states, stranding cars near Palm Springs and in the Coachella Valley in Southern California.

In southern Utah, motorists in Zion National Park were advised to use caution on roads that might contain debris, rocks or water. Park officials also urged visitors to stay out of areas such as dry washes and slot canyons.

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

Monsoon storms from the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico often bring heavy rain and wind to the region in the summer.

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