Cheyenne Begins Cleanup Operations Following Devastating Flood
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) _ Soggy mattresses and soaked carpets were piled on front lawns today and street crews manned front-end loaders to clear huge piles of hailstones left by one of the deadliest storms ever to hit Wyoming’s capital.
″It was like someone opened a faucet immediately above Cheyenne and set it on super-high velocity,″ Mayor Don Erickson said Friday, estimating the damage from Thursday night’s storm at millions of dollars. Twelve people died, authorities said.
The hail and flooding damaged countless homes and businesses, shredded trees and shrubs, tore down phone and power lines and turned low-lying areas into lakes.
The record-setting storm dropped 6.06 inches of rain on Cheyenne between 6:20 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. Thursday - about half the precipitation the city usually gets in a year.
Along with it came one reported tornado, several funnel clouds and hail that floodwaters pushed into 8-foot drifts.
″The kind of storm we had is a once in a 100- or 200-year thing,″ said Bill Parker of the National Weather Service.
Federal Emergency Managment Agency officials were scheduled to tour the city today, assessing damages and evaluating whether a federal disaster declaration was warranted, said Wyoming Civil Defense spokesman Norm French.
They also were scheduled to meet with state officials and Gov. Ed Herschler, who would have to sign any request for federal disaster relief, French said.
The State Civil Defense Office was manning a shelter Friday night but had served few people, French said.
″People have a tendency to stay with friends and relatives in this town,″ he said. ″There aren’t too many homeless. Even with flooded basements, people can still sleep upstairs.″
The fatalities included a 73-year-old woman trapped by floodwaters in a basement where she sought refuge during a tornado warning, a sheriff’s deputy and the 6-year-old girl he tried to rescue from a car near a flooded creek.
Erickson said 70 people were injured, most with cuts and bruises. Only two people were hospitalized Friday night, listed in serious but stable condition.
Front-end loaders worked to clear streets still blocked with piles of hailstones still up to five feet high, and cars leaned with wheels askew where they had been shoved by the walls of hail.
People wandered about Holliday Park in the center of town Friday, some taking pictures of Big Boy, once the largest operating steam locomotive in the world, where waves lapped at the top of its massive drive wheels.
Soggy mattresses, boxes and carpets littered front yards as homeowners opened basement windows and doors, turned fans on and cranked up sump pumps to empty flooded basements.
″It was like where the world came to an end, as far as coordination we’ve been working on for years goes,″ said Civil Defense director Dave Guille, after police and civil defense communications broke down and emergency workers were flooded out.
″It failed because we had a flood through the entire network.″