Fernley Flood Five years later: Mayor says ‘we’re into a new era’

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Published Caption: None

In the early hours of Jan. 5, 2008, life for hundreds of Fernley residents turned abruptly during a flood that at the time thrust the Lyon County town of about 20,000 people into the national spotlight.Five years later, however, Fernley Mayor LeRoy Goodman describes those as mostly distant memories now.“I think the flood is pretty much behind us,” said Goodman, a 47-year Fernley resident. “The lawsuits on the city’s part have been resolved, and Fernley’s just moving forward trying to attract industry and business and building the community. We’re into a new era.”There still is no forgetting Jan. 5, 2008, if you ask Jeff Page, Lyon County’s current county manager.“My wife and I talked about this last weekend,” he said. “That was a pretty interesting event from the very beginning. You have to remember, they were expecting major snowfall throughout the region, so in Lyon County we were prepared for a major snow event. “When I left the Emergency Operations Center about 11:30 the night before, the last thing I heard was North Lyon County Fire being dispatched because somebody had run into a fire hydrant. Then about 4:30 in the morning I get a phone call from dispatch advising me there was a flood in Fernley. My response was, ‘This is a fire hydrant, why are you waking me up?’ They informed me it wasn’t the fire hydrant, the canal had broken and water was everywhere.”Todd Cutler, Fernley’s mayor in 2008, described the flood as “quite an experience” for the city of Fernley and for the mayor.“It was kind of a nightmare-like situation but handled in a tremendously successful way,” said Cutler, who now serves as the Rocklin (Calif.) Unified School District Deputy Superintendent for Education Services. “When you start to think about the whole picture of life, and how, water’s running through people’s houses at 4:30 in the morning and lakes start to fill up homes. And out of it, people worked together to make it as good as possible. It was just an amazing response.”Page acknowledged the agencies that responded from around Northern Nevada included Reno and Sparks fire protection personnel, Lyon County’s four fire districts, Naval Air Station Fallon, the Nevada Army and Air National Guard and Nevada Highway Patrol. What made that response extraordinary, unlike most weather-related floods, there really was no advance warning of the canal breach. “This was one of those events where we didn’t have that luxury,” Page said. “North Lyon County Fire and the Sheriff’s Office worked very closely together to get people alerted to get evacuations in place. Human Services was on the spot and went to the high school to get a shelter opened up; Red Cross was there right away and things started to mesh together. “Now, when I say that, it doesn’t mean the public was overly thrilled. It was right after Christmas and New Year’s, everybody’s upset and you had winter weather. But overall, I thought the response went remarkably well.”Of course, there is room improvement. “We went through afterward and reviewed what actions we could have done differently,” Page said. “At that time we had no way of notifying you other than by beating on your door and telling you your house was flooding. So the city and county both agreed to pay into an electronic notification system; we’re currently using a company called CityWatch to keep people abreast of what’s going on.”Goodman couldn’t say enough for emergency services from Lyon County, region and state.“Jeff Page had Lyon County tuned in. They’d done drills and exercises and man, knew the resources to get here, and he did it,” Goodman said. “Of course, he had support; Edrie LaVoie of Social Services stepped up to the plate, setting up the shelter at the high school for everybody to come into and have hot food and have a place to stay at least for a couple of nights until other things happened.”Goodman added praise for a community that pulled together under difficult circumstances. That included motel owners offering free rooms for residents whose homes had been flooded as well as many of the community’s large businesses and industries. “It was a big response, not only from the city of Fernley but our neighbors, too,” he said. “Fallon, Reno, Carson City and the surrounding areas; everybody was here to help people get back on their feet and get this community going again.”Work to recover continues five years later, not to mention ongoing litigation that continues to wind through the courts. “There’s nothing I can say that would make it any better, except one thing, and our community had a major flood run through it, and yet we didn’t lose one single life that day,” said Cutler, a 10-year Fernley resident who left his post as mayor in August 2009 to work as a school superintendent in Lassen County (Calif.). “I was proud to be the mayor. Fernley people are resilient, they’ve adapted to change and they’re working through things ... I’m sure Fernley is going to see its boom again.”


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