Dissecting the storm response
Appeal Staff Writer
A National Weather Service employee characterized last week’s torrential rain storm as: “strong, heavy, pouring, wet rain.”
Other words could have been used, including “expensive,” “dangerous,” and “time-consuming.”
The cost for storm repairs and cleanup is rising as the water, snow and muck recedes. Thursday’s estimate now exceeds $5 million. This excludes potholes.
City employees were relieved, however, they could tell supervisors the city was relatively well-prepared and somewhat lucky because things could have been a lot worse.
“You have a great staff that worked very hard,” said Andy Burnham, development services director, who provided the Board of Supervisors with a timeline of events.
Preparation started soon after the weather service contacted the city at 11 a.m. Dec. 29. Key employees gathered for a meeting at 2 p.m. The city also contacted the Nevada Department of Forestry to obtain crews to assist.
City employees met again the morning of Dec. 30 to review their action plan, and the rain began to fall. The 11:30 a.m. arrival of the storm came hours earlier than predicted.
Physical preparation work was stepped up with two forestry crews sent to the Washington Street ditch by midafternoon, and sandbagging was also started. More crews arrived at 10 p.m.
At 1 a.m. Saturday, “things started going south,” Burnham said. The city ordered additional crews. The Emergency Operations Center was activated before 2:30 a.m. Douglas County had originally pledged to send 10 employees to assist, but rain-related problems there caused them to literally turn around.
The Board of Supervisors called a special meeting at 7 a.m. and declared it a state of emergency. Soon after, the city began ordering contract help. City employees and other crews kept working, even as the rain slowed and water flows in Carson River and the area’s other waterways began to decrease.
There were eight instances where people needed to be rescued from vehicles stuck in rushing water. Though there were signs posted in many areas warning drivers that certain roads were closed, some didn’t notice the signs. There were so many trouble spots that the city eventually ran out of signs to place, Burnham noted.
Kings Canyon, for instance, reached 90 times its normal flow. Things had slowed down by 11:30 p.m., when the emergency status was revoked.
Sunday and Monday were marked by continued flood-control activities and debris removal. The eventual arrival of snow, Burnham said, brought things somewhat “back to normal” but then the immediate task was to respond to snow.
Though Tuesday morning marked a return to normal operations, the cleanup and repairs continue, as did flood control.
At least one public works employee put in 100 hours of storm-related duty.
Burnham highlighted employees’ ability to work as a team. And it was the first time the city used an incident command system throughout the departments. A command center was set up at Fire Station No. 1.
City crews expect to have all streets damaged in last weekend’s torrential rain storm reopened to traffic today. Work will be ongoing.
Area supervisors and city staff said they will seek to improve communication with the public in future disasters. Sandbags were everywhere but some people didn’t know where to get them. And the telephone numbers to report problems didn’t reach everyone.
Supervisor Shelly Aldean said, however, that no matter how well things are publicized that some people don’t read newspapers or watch the news and “just don’t take the initiative” to keep abreast of important goings on.
— Contact reporter Terri Harber at tharber @nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111, ext. 215.