An apocalyptic storm hit Utah County Saturday evening, bringing with it evacuations, mudslides, power outages, street flooding and a game delay. Damage reached from the southernmost part of the county to Alpine and into Salt Lake County, leaving police, road crews and search and rescue scrambling to clog up or shovel away messes.
The storm caused massive amounts of road debris on S.R. 92 in American Fork Canyon, forcing multiple road closures. Nearly half a dozen mudslides were reported within the canyon, the largest about 35 to 40 feet deep.
The first mudslide, closest to the mouth of the canyon, was cleared before 8:30 p.m., allowing search and rescue to help clear the people from the area before UDOT moved to the second, and largest, mudslide just below Timpanogos Cave Monument, near Sweeney Bridge. Search and Rescue hiked through and found that hundreds of people were safe within the visitor’s center.
Lt. Tom Hodgson of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office said there are at least five mudslides reported. Several mudslides were also reported going up to Tibble Fork. “We can’t confirm anything more than that, as we are still waiting to get up there.” Hodgson also reported that at least 30 vehicles had made it out safely, and only 30 additional people had been escorted out of the canyon by 9:30 p.m., while the Sheriff’s Office guessed there were still about 200 people reported in the canyon.
“There are 12 search and rescue guys in there helping the visitors out, shuttling them out, because their vehicles had been stuck in the mud or in the river.”
Though there have been around 10 missing persons reported to the sheriff’s office, Hodgson said, “We are slowly accounting for all of the missing people after we are able to contact them behind the slides.” Because of the unexpected amount of rain and debris, some cars slid into the river while others became stuck within the debris and mud that surrounded the visitors swiftly. On the trail to Timpanogos Cave, visitors were escorted out to safety.
Above Timpanogos Cave, cars and visitors were trapped between two mudslides. A ranger from Timpanogos Cave Monument was able to hike through the mudslide and talk to the people stuck between the slide, according to Jim Ireland, the superintendent for Timpanogos Cave National Monument.
“He was able to make contact with them, so we know that they are OK.” Ireland guessed the wait time, at about 9 p.m. Saturday night, for the family members of the visitors stuck in the canyon.”I’m thinking about three more hours before we can get all of the people out of the canyon.”
The Utah County Sheriff’s Office had asked for people to refrain from driving into the canyon.
Ireland also hazarded a guess at the amount of people still trapped in the mudslides. “On a typical Saturday afternoon, there are a couple hundred visitors to the caves.” Ireland stated that many had visited the caves, but others many have been visiting for mountain biking, ATV-ing, or for hunting.
No injuries were reported among the visitors, but spotty cell phone service made communication with the stranded hikers difficult. Most relied on a landline phone within the visitors center to call family members and friends. Ireland added, as a side note, that Timpanogos Cave National Monument would be closed tomorrow for clean-up and that it is unknown when they will be able to reopen. They are currently contacting visitors with appointments for tomorrow to let them know.
Alpine City ordered immediate evacuation Saturday night for all residents living in the area near the Quail Fire burn scar left by last summer’s fire. All homes in the Box Elder and Moyle Dr. areas had to evacauate their homes as flooding and mudslides became a concern. People living east of Grove Dr. to the Willow Canyon area were told to be on alert.
According to the National Weather Service, 0.75 inches of water fell in 15 minutes at the site of the burn scar, causing mudslides and debris flow. Alpine City asked residents to come together and fill sandbags to help control the flood waters.
Many residents came to the City Shop to volunteer in the effort.
The city asked for additional volunteers to help assist clean up on Sunday at 9 a.m. and noon. The BYU football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium, scheduled to start at 5 p.m. was delayed for nearly two hours, during which fans were told to leave the stadium, without indication of when the game would restart. Many of the fans tried to wait the storm out with ponchos and popsicles, but for some, the storm was too strong to stand. Many fans were seen fleeing from the rain, thunder and lightning heard and seen around the stadium.
Provo residents were severely affected by flooding. Some neighborhoods reported more than three feet of water in homes, others suffered roof and window damage. Residents pulled together with buckets and shop vacuums to attempt to stop the swell of water from the floods. In one home near 1460 N. 1350 W., water was reported up to waist level. The upper staircase at Lions Park in Provo was described as ‘washed out.’ Several stores and neighborhoods in Provo also lost power temporarily.
In Orem, storm drains took on more water than they could handle and several homes were flooded as a result. City workers attempted to fix the problem as rain continued to pour. Orem residents were told to avoid leaving their homes or driving at all costs. Intersections throughout the city formed into small ponds and rivers, especially the intersection of University Parkway and State St. Several reports indicated at least three feet of flood waters in varying Orem areas. Red Cross volunteer teams helped flooded apartments into the night to evaluate residents’ immediate needs.
Sunday, 08 September, 2013 at 05:10 (05:10 AM) UTC RSOE