Monsoon-type rains and flash flooding on July 19 resulted in the county emergency management director and sheriff’s department considering evacuating about 10 campers stranded at Cathedral Gorge State Park.
Sheriff Kerry Lee reported that, about 6:00 that evening, torrential rains struck the Caselton-Pioche area and then funneled down the valley to the gorge and on south to the Y Junction.
Within a short time, the heavy rains and winds, upwards of 60 mph, covered the valley with water rushing down Highway 93, causing high water over the roadway in three separate places.
The National Weather Service in Las Vegas reported about 1.5-2 inches of rain had fallen during the torrent, covering a wide area of the Meadow Valley.
“We got the first call about 6:45,” Lee said, “about flooded roads. And then 911 calls from campers trapped at Cathedral Gorge.”
The sheriff’s department, Nevada Highway Patrol, emergency management, state parks, and the U.S Forest Service Honor Camp all responded.
The Panaca Volunteer Fire Department used one of their high clearance brush engines, Lee said, “And were able to cross the water at three spots in the park where we could see the campground was flooded.”
He said they reached 10 campers at five campsites. “The flood had come down through the park, breached a dike, and went through the campground.”
He said, “We are so fortunate not to have suffered any serious injuries or fatalities. One man in a minivan had water deep enough to be at the side windows of his van, but it didn’t sweep it away. There are sections of the campground now that are basically wiped out where water had been 3-4 feet deep in places.”
Water flooded down the valley to the Y at the Panaca Junction where it was about 18 inches at the gas pumps at the Shell station. It also caused flooding to some nearby homes, including one family’s basement, and flooded several hay fields.
After the emergency passed, Lee said, “We decided the campers could hunker down in place for the night, but if we got anymore rain, we were prepared and contacted the high school in Panaca to serve as an evacuation shelter point if needed. But we did not get anymore rain.”
During the evening, workers from the Division of Forestry Honor Camp were brought in to place sandbags where needed. On Friday, using shovels and backhoes, the Honor Camp workers were able to get all the stranded campers out and on their way.
County Emergency Management Director Eric Holt said having the high clearance brush vehicles go in was very helpful to reach the stranded campers. “I rode in on one and got to talk to those who were right in the middle of the flood zone. It got pretty scary for those folks for a time. They told me rains came really hard, you couldn’t see your hand at arm’s length, and then, suddenly, the raging flood waters were upon them.”
Holt said, heavy as the rain and flooding were, most of the road damage to Highway 93 was along the shoulders and debris on top of the road. “No road actually washed out that I am aware of. Some minor damage out near Beaver Dam.”
He said it rained heavily in Caliente and Beaver Dam, too, but the brunt of it was at Cathedral Gorge.