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Engineer called hero, credited with saving Arizona homes

While the Virgin River continued to rage through Mesquite on Thursday, residents of Arizona communities 10 miles upstream were thankful for a quick-thinking engineer who authorities credit with saving 20 homes from being swept into the swollen Beaver Dam Wash.

Monte Wilson, engineering manager for Mohave County, Ariz., enlisted a team of contractors to install concrete barriers to divert the wash’s swift water away from Littlefield, Ariz., and nearby Beaver Dam Resort, where six homes were carried off in floodwaters this week. The barriers had been in storage since a flood in January 2005 wreaked havoc in Mesquite and the surrounding area.

"One very emotional lady hugged us this morning and thanked us for saving her home," Wilson said Thursday in a Mohave County news release. He was directing operations at the scene late Thursday and was unavailable for further comment.

From a helicopter 200 feet above the wash, the view below and upstream of where it empties into the Virgin River showed how close some houses and mobile homes were to joining others that had broken into pieces or were on the brink of toppling into the muddy, fast-moving water.

One house sat mired on a sandbar that had emerged after high water subsided from its peak Wednesday night.

At 9 p.m. Wednesday, the wash crested at 4.7 feet above normal with a flow clocked at more than 9,000 cubic feet per second under Beaver Dam Bridge.

According to Mohave County Development Services Director Nick Hont, more than $10 million has been spent since 2005 on flood-control work to protect Beaver Dam and Littlefield with most of the funding coming from federal grants.

A key project entailed building a new bridge to withstand a 500-year flood.

Erosion protection structures also were built "which is why no homes were destroyed in Beaver Dam Estates. They got water damage but the structures protected them from being destroyed," Hont said.

Downstream in Mesquite, a subdivision at the edge of the city was spared by an army of volunteers who manned earth-moving equipment to build a berm that kept the river from engulfing a neighborhood.

"This time we were able to get out there quickly and rally the troops," Mesquite Mayor Susan Holecheck said. "If that equipment hadn’t created another obstacle, more water would have come in. We actually were quite lucky."

Although a total amount of damage won’t be available until next week, Holecheck said, initial reports are that two homes sustained significant water intrusion compare to 50 during the 2005 flood.

"What we’re trying to do is get through the recovery," she said.

Although most homes were spared, she said, there was "considerable damage" to five baseball diamonds at Hunters Park.

Southwest of Mesquite and downstream of where a bridge on Route 170 leads to Bunkerville, the Virgin River had cut so deep into its north bank that a 100-yard segment of a road along the river was wiped out.

Red Cross volunteers who assessed damage in Mesquite, Beaver Dam and Littlefield reported that 174 homes were affected by flooding with most in Beaver Dam and Littlefield. Combined, 143 homes in those communities got less than a foot of water inside them.

In the Beaver Dam area, drinking water was cut off to damaged homes, and flooding destroyed a sewer system lift station, prompting an advisory from health officials for the public to avoid contact with floodwaters.

To accommodate residents, Mohave County agencies delivered bottled water to the area and distributed 55 portable restrooms. Dumpsters were also hauled in for disposing water-soaked carpets and other items.

Red Cross volunteers will be available for affected families to discuss needs and financial assistance from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at Virgin Valley High School in Mesquite.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@review journal.com or 702-383-0308.

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