Man recounts terrifying 1974 flood at Nelson’s Landing

Local News

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A terrifying storm struck Nevada in 1974 and no one saw it coming. It happened about 50 miles southeast of Las Vegas.

A flash flood swept through Eldorado Canyon destroying everything in its path and creating a disaster of epic proportions.

Destruction was left behind after the 1974 flood. (Special Collections and Archives, UNLV)

“September the 14th. It was a beautiful day in September. Very strange because it wasn’t crowded there. I expected a lot of people because it was so nice weather-wise,” said John Gellifent, victim’s friend.

There was a dark cloud seen miles away. But, at Nelson’s Landing — the sun was oddly shining.

“I spent a lot of time out at the lake years and years ago in the late 60s and 70s and never saw anything like that anywhere. No,” Gellifent said.

The water was fast and there was no warning.

Gellifent and his friend, Jack Dailey, a local teacher who loved the area, were in the middle of an unexpected disaster.

Jack Dailey, pictured with his daughter, was killed in the flash flood.

“Jack was out boating,” Gellifent said. “He was coming back when the wall of water hit.”

The wall of water was reportedly 40 feet high. Homes, cars, and restaurants were destroyed. Nine people died including Dailey.

The deadly 1974 flood swept through Nelson’s Landing in the Eldorado Canyon leaving nine people dead. (Special Collections and Archives, UNLV)

“Dailey was actually a school teacher of mine when I was in high school and he was one of the guys that died,” said Tony Werly.

He and his wife, Bobbie, own the Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours which is a quaint property nearby.

“It started out as stuff that you see in the store here, lately its turned into cars and trucks and buses and all kinds of stuff, Werly said. We don’t consider ourselves pickers, we consider ourselves hoarders.”

Werly was up the river at Willow Beach during the flood.

“That’s 52 square miles that all merged into that one canyon,” he said. “As the cloud was coming down the mountain, they were trying to get their boat docks out of the water before they got rained on. They never knew what was coming down the canyon with it.”

Now, there are flood warning signs surround Nelson’s Landing. A “Deadly Flash Flood” display sits in front of the picturesque river and tells the story of that deadly day.

This display tells the story of the deadly 1974 flash flood that ripped through Nelson’s Landing. (KLAS-TV)

“After the thing was over, it was like this again. Like you couldn’t imagine what happened,” Gellifent said.

Daily never got to see the elementary school that was named after him.

“He loved to tell stories, jokes, he’s a very outgoing person, very likable, everybody liked him,” he said.

His friends say he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They find some comfort that he was in a place that he loved.

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