Flash flooding damages homes, cuts off small Wyoming town

AP News
Posted: Jun 04, 2015 7:32 PM
Flash flooding damages homes, cuts off small Wyoming town

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A freak thunderstorm dumped up to 6 inches of rain and inundated a tiny Wyoming town, collapsing a bridge, damaging homes and businesses, and sending about a dozen people to higher ground.

Another thunderstorm dumped more rain on the flooded area Thursday afternoon before Gov. Matt Mead was scheduled to arrive to tour the damage.

In Lusk, population 1,500, floodwaters rushed down Main Street, swamping four blocks and shutting down the town's water supply, said Niobrara County Emergency Management Coordinator James Santistevan.

There were no reports of anyone being hurt, he said.

Emergency responders brought in drinking water as crews worked to restore wells that supply Lusk's water system, he said.

Plus, road closures on Thursday cut off in all directions the town along a normally tiny Niobrara River.

"We got a lot of debris, lot of damage," said Santistevan, who could not estimate how many homes or businesses were damaged.

Officials later opened one highway into Lusk to local traffic only. About a dozen state National Guard members were sent to help, and the Red Cross opened a shelter for about a dozen displaced residents.

The storm stalled over the area around 9 p.m. Wednesday and didn't relent until after midnight. In just one night, the area got one-third as much moisture as it typically gets all year.

The flooding caused a highway bridge to crumble onto some railroad tracks below just north of downtown.

The storm was among several that hammered eastern Wyoming and the Colorado Front Range on Wednesday night and early Thursday. More severe weather was possible regionwide Thursday amid what's been an unusually rainy Rocky Mountain springtime.

Lusk is about 250 miles north of Denver and the seat of Niobrara County, the least populated county in the least populated state. The town on the rolling plains is home to the state women's prison, which was not affected by the floodwaters.

Flash flooding is not unusual in Wyoming but rare for Lusk, said Tim Trudel, a National Weather Service forecaster in Cheyenne.

"They tend to have pretty good drainage. That just goes to show the intensity of the flood," Trudel said.

Records show Lusk typically gets about 15 inches of rain a year.

Lusk officials weren't immediately available for comment.

The flooding closed about 130 miles of U.S. 85 from Lingle to Newcastle and about 60 miles of U.S. 18-20 from Orin Junction to the Nebraska line. Highway engineers were assessing damage to roads and bridges in the area, said Wyoming Department of Transportation spokesman Bruce Burrows.

Burrows said U.S. 85 south of Lusk to Lingle was open to local traffic only while other motorists were being stopped from using the highway because of the collapsed bridge.

It was too soon to determine how long it would take to repair the bridge, he said.

"That's a pretty major project," he said. "Right now people are going to have to make plans, and it's going to involve a pretty large detour."

High water from storms elsewhere briefly closed Interstate 90 between Gillette and Buffalo and caused flooding in parts of Sheridan in northern Wyoming.