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Rain, flood, repeat: Why rain always plays havoc near the Strip

Updated September 2, 2023 - 3:13 pm

Footage of swift, debris-littered waters roaring through The Linq’s parking garage tends to spread widely on social media every time the Las Vegas Valley receives a good monsoon soaking.

The Strip was largely spared by Hilary, but sometimes the rain there even makes national news.

“SIN CITY CHAOS,” declared Fox News on Twitter after a rainy evening in late July 2022. The Washington Post described it as “floodwaters that made the parking garage at The Linq Hotel look more like a white-water rapids course.”

Pair that with images of water raining down from casino-floor ceilings, and some may come to believe that the Strip was a disaster zone.

Although the images can be shocking, the chaotic flow of water mostly does what it was designed to do, said Andrew Trelease, assistant general manager with the Clark County Regional Flood Control District.

Most of the rain that falls within a 14-mile radius drains through the Flamingo Wash, a human-built flood control channel that runs beneath the Strip, he said. But excess water tends to flood the ground level of the parking garage before going back into the wash and on its way toward Lake Mead.

“It’s working as intended,” he said about the wash and flood control system. “But it doesn’t mean that it’s not dangerous — that it’s a very bad place to be.”

Stuck with the flooding

Trelease described the flooding as both an “eyesore” and an “attractive nuisance” that can threaten curious bystanders who find themselves hanging around it. A social media video showed a man riding the stream in a floatie.

It’s also an issue engineers can do little, if anything, to fix, unless the parking structure was removed, Trelease said.

“It’s kind of a blemish for us when we see the national news, that the Las Vegas Strip is flooding again,” he said. “It takes away from all the great work that the Regional Flood Control District has done in Clark County to protect people, and property from flooding.”

That work consists of 677 miles of channels and storm drains, with 102 water detention basins.

Trelease said the valley is a “big bath tub” with the tourist corridor situated at its center.

He noted that while the system is not perfect, it does comply with rules from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“I would love to see that problem fixed,” he said about the excess water. “But unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to fix the problem until the building is razed and we can rebuild the system underground.”

Flood of ’75

The natural Flamingo Wash was taken underground from Interstate 15 through Caesars Palace and The Linq after monumental flash flooding on July 3, 1975, which submerged and washed away hundreds of cars at Caesars, some of which were recovered miles away, according to Review-Journal archives that noted that cranes had to be used to remove the vehicles.

Elsewhere in the valley that day, the storms killed two city of North Las Vegas employees who were directing traffic. At the time, a Las Vegas official said the flooding was the worst in at least 20 years and estimated losses above $4 million.

The next couple of years, as crews worked to complete the flood channel, the foundation of the parking garage for the Imperial Palace, which later was rebranded to The Linq, stood in the way.

“We can’t dig anymore,” Trelease said the thinking went, and that it’s still the case.

Efforts to mitigate heavy flooding have been made since, including a $300 million investment in the 1990s that diverted some of the flow to the Tropicana Wash. The Army Corps of Engineers was involved in the project, Trelease said. A detention basin helps slow the water at the Flamingo Wash, he added.

Still, problems persisted. The Review-Journal reported in July 1990 that a 25-year-old woman died after her car was swept into the Flamingo Wash by floodwaters near Valley View Boulevard and Harmon Avenue. Rose Lynn Worcester may have jumped out of her car and drowned before her body was later discovered by a limousine driver in the parking garage of the then-Imperial Palace. That flood also knocked out power and swept an additional 30 cars away.

Trelease said the flood control district regularly contacts The Linq’s operators to give them a heads up if a storm is in the forecast. The property’s parent company, Caesars Entertainment, did not respond to a request seeking comment about its safety protocols.

In the past, Trelease said, they included sandbag levees, flood gates and clearing the ground level of the parking garage.

“For the most part they do that,” he said. “They protect their own property.”

Signage and education serve as additional tools to keep the public safe.

“It doesn’t always work, and people still think it looks like a water feature and they want to go play in it,” he said. “And it scares me.”

Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com. Follow @rickytwrites on X.

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