LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The official scope of damage to Mt. Charleston from Tropical Storm Hilary remains unclear as crews continue to navigate obstacles during initial assessments, a task officials anticipate will result in months of rebuilding.
The quickly moving floods turned these communities into a construction zone. Following the Sunday shower, the Mt. Charleston Fire Protection District (MCFPD) anticipated up to 200 people were stuck without power or potable water on Monday.
While voluntary evacuations have since been pursued and the Nevada National Guard rescued 51 people, those choosing to stay back are preparing for months of a new normal: bulldozers, chainsaws, and cranes in their backyard
Sean and Katie Reeh, living in the subdivision most impacted by the floods, now live with a ditch surrounding their property. Their cars are trapped inside it, while the stairs of their shed no longer touch the ground.
“We were on an island. Our house was completely surrounded,” Sean said Friday morning within the Old Town subdivision. “10, 15 feet across. 10, 15 feet deep.”
Their three children, ranging from four to 12 years old, are unable to attend Earl B. Lundy Elementary School now as ditches, several feet wide and deep, prevent an estimated 16 students from accessing the building. There is no estimate of when the school will reopen.
“Our 4-year-old, he said, ‘It looks like the beach is at our house now mommy. Wow!’ He doesn’t really understand it so much,” Katie said, wiping away a tear from underneath her sunglasses. “I think our 9-year-old, once this whole school thing is straightened out, I think he’ll start to really feel the impact of it.”
Now, as damage assessments continue, construction crews are in rebuild mode. They likely will be in this mode through at least the fall, according to officials during a press conference here Friday morning.
As the entire mountain was reenergized Wednesday night, NV Energy crews are now removing over 200 hazardous trees threatening powerlines. Debris from miles further up the mountain are also being removed down the mountain by the ton.
In the midst of construction, USFS has extended its emergency closure “indefinitely,” which was initially scheduled to end Friday, Deborah MacNeill with the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest said. The forest closure means only residents, whether voluntarily evacuated or not, and emergency personnel are the only people allowed past roads leading up the mountain where chunks have fallen down steep slopes.
Mario Gomez, District 1 Engineer for NDOT, says it allows his crews to rebuild them more securely.
“Not that, you know, (the damages were) preventable, but we want to make sure we’re getting better at what we’re doing,” Gomez said during the conference. “Now’s an opportunity for us to maybe plate, reinforce, upgrade some things.”
It’s also a race against the clock before cold and wet winter weather. Gomez added, “Once we get cold weather in, it’s going to be a challenge for us.”
But, with Clark County’s emergency declaration announced on Sunday, state and federal dollars are available to both fund and speed up the process. The road work alone could cost up to $8 million, Gomez said.
With a boil water notice in effect for the foreseeable future, residents like the Reehs still don’t feel at home.
“That’s the silver lining to this, is that we are getting some attention now,” Sean said, referencing his opinion that the community does not see the same level of road maintenance as those in the Las Vegas Valley.
For travelers, USFS and emergency personnel urge them to make other plans for the Labor Day weekend, which is typically a popular time for people to visit these areas.
“If the general public attempts to access the mountain, they will be putting themselves in real danger,” Brian O’Neil, Clark County Assistant Fire Chief, said during the conference.
The Mt. Charleston Volunteer Fire Department has also turned to the community through this GoFundMe to help rebuild after they say flood damaged equipment and supplies that took years to accumulate.