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Damage in Dike Break Put at ‘Tens of Millions of Dollars’ : Utah Area Cleaning Up After Flooding

United Press International

Volunteers on Monday cleaned up tons of debris left behind by a wall of water that swept through a broken dike and into communities downstream, causing what the governor said was “tens of millions of dollars” in damage.

“All you can do is get in and dig some more--just dig out,” one volunteer said. “We’ve got a lot of people helping us.”

The dike, adjacent to the Quail Creek Reservoir, about 300 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, gave way eight minutes into the New Year, Tony Hafen, Washington County emergency services director, said.

Floodwaters raced down the Virgin River, invaded about 60 homes and 100 apartments and forced the evacuation of about 1,500 people, authorities said. However, there were no reports of people injured or missing.

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Gov. Norman H. Bangerter, who flew to St. George to inspect the flood-stricken area, said Monday in Salt Lake City that, although damage estimates are still being added up, the destruction will carry a big price tag.

“I would imagine it would be in the tens of millions of dollars when you consider the dike and the bridges and the roads and the personal property” lost, Bangerter told United Press International. “But there’s no official number on that at this point.”

Authorities had spotted a leak in the dam early and said the fact that many people were up late celebrating the New Year helped in the rapid evacuation.

Sheri Hansen, who had just sold her home in the exclusive Bloomington Hills area, said she had only a few minutes to move her most valuable possessions before evacuating.

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“We just closed the deal Friday. I guess the deal’s off,” said Hansen, who estimated that there was $40,000 in damage to the home.

The rushing waters carved a 300-foot hole in the half-mile-long earthen dike, which had a history of leaking.

But officials were still investigating what caused it to give way.

Authorities allowed the evacuated residents back into their homes after the floods subsided Sunday, but some still remained displaced because of extensive water and mud damage.

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Interstate 15, the main route between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, was closed for about 12 hours. State Road 9 remained closed because of washed-out bridges.

Several Mormon churches canceled Sunday services and dispatched members to lend a hand in bucket brigades bailing out mud and water from damaged homes.

Bangerter, who was sworn in Monday for a second term, briefly referred to the flooding in his inauguration speech, pledging that the broken dike will be repaired.

“The people of Washington County and the people of the state will not give in,” he said. “As they have done in those valleys for nearly 150 years, they will rebuild as many times as it takes.”

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After passing through the southwestern Utah communities, the flood rushed toward southeastern Nevada, but the waters were lower by the time they arrived and caused only minimal damage.

“We had about 12 hours’ advance warning,” said Police Chief Arvie Kelley of Mesquite, Nev. “We did quite well. We did not evacuate; we didn’t have to. We just warned people.”

Mark Owens, a geologist and engineer with Rollins, Brown & Gunnell, which designed the dike, said millions of dollars had been spent on repairs since the dike was dedicated in September, 1985.

“The company felt like it was making progress,” Owens said.

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