Nevada county declares emergency after earthen dam fails

AP News
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Posted: Feb 09, 2017 6:49 PM
Nevada county declares emergency after earthen dam fails

ELKO, Nev. (AP) — A rural northeast Nevada county declared a state of emergency Thursday after an earthen dam failed, releasing fast-moving water that forced trains to reroute and closed part of a washed out state highway near the Utah line.

A 65-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 93 from Wells north to the Idaho line also was closed due to flooding a day after the dam broke near Montello, state transportation officials said.

Elko County Sheriff Jim Pitts said county commissioners approved the state of emergency as his deputies searched for anyone who might be stranded by floodwaters.

No injuries have been reported, but authorities said there appeared to be extensive damage to several ranches and farms.

About 30 residences have been impacted by the floodwaters in Montello since the Twentyone Mile Dam broke Wednesday afternoon, Pitts said. A 10-mile stretch of State Route 233 remained closed.

"The weather by Montello has calmed down, but we did lose a road with the reservoir failure," Pitts told reporters in Elko on Thursday.

"I have the undersheriff right now flying up to take a look at the rest of the reservoirs and other damage in that area," he said. He said the emergency declaration will make the county eligible for state assistance

Nevada Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meg Ragonese said Thursday afternoon there was no way of knowing how long State Route 233 would remain closed.

"An entire section of the road washed out," she told The Associated Press.

Most of northeast Nevada remained under a flood warning into Friday as a wet winter storm battered much of the northern half of the state from California to Utah. In western Nevada, winds gusting in excess of 90 mph toppled multiple semi-trailers north of Reno and south of Carson City, and downed power lines, leaving more than 10,000 homes without power Thursday afternoon.

The flooding in Elko County forced delays or rerouting for more than a dozen freight and passenger trains on a main rail line that runs through the area, said Union Pacific spokesman Justin E. Jacobs. Crews have begun assessing washed out and damaged areas. It's unknown when service will be restored.

The rural area affected is situated is near the Utah border and about 30 miles northeast of Wells, a key Nevada city along Interstate 80.

The weather service said that a full breach and failure of the 21 Mile Dam sent water spilling out in a "dangerous and life-threatening situation."

Kevin Hall, a captain with the East Elko Fire Protection District, said the flooding and the breach were due to heavy runoff and snowmelt.

A postal spokesman for Nevada said the Elko Daily Free Press that the Montello Post Office was "swamped," but workers were able to retrieve all the mail.

"We're still assessing how we're going to deliver it," David Rupert told the newspaper.