Cleanup Continues As Flooded Fernley Awaits Disaster Status

Building inspectors went door to door in the northern Nevada town of Fernley on Tuesday to assess millions of dollars of damage from the flood caused by a break in a century-old irrigation canal.

As flood waters continued to drain in the fast-growing community 30 miles east of Reno, cleanup efforts from the weekend levee rupture were ongoing.

Meanwhile, homeowners were awaiting word on whether President
Bush would declare their neighborhood a disaster area, making them
eligible for full-scale federal aid that provides low-interest grants and loans to help cover repair costs.

Gary Bacock, Fernley city manager, said water in the hardest hit areas was down to curb high - a big improvement but little consolation to residents who awoke early Saturday to find water gushing into their homes before dawn.

"It's really in the street, probably right at the curb," Bacock said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "The higher profile vehicles can go through very easily. Lower profile vehicles, you may or may not want to go through there."

Water collected 8 feet deep in some areas after a large swath of the earthen levee gave way and a 2-foot wave of water swamped the neighborhood.

More than a dozen residents were rescued by helicopter from rooftops, while others were taken to safety by boats.

The canal is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation but managed by the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District.

During a meeting with residents Monday night, Jeff Page, Lyon County's emergency services director, said that association will make it difficult to determine liability.

"So that's going to be an issue, who is responsible for what, and that's an answer I don't know," Page said. "Hopefully when it comes time to fund it they will look at that it's a federal property and that will help push the directive to get done."

Bacock said teams of building inspectors, including volunteers from nearby counties and cities and as far away as Las Vegas, were doing a methodical assessment of nearly 600 homes to determine whether they were safe.

"There are number of issues we have to look for, and part of their inspections is determining whether the houses are inhabitable," Bacock said.

He said large trash bins are being placed along the streets so residents can dispose of the muck, trash and ruined remnants of their lives.

Gov. Jim Gibbons on Saturday declared the area a disaster, the first step toward seeking a federal disaster designation.

But Michael Karl of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said
after touring the region with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others on Monday that federal aid was not guaranteed.

"It is not going to be a slam dunk," Karl said.

Gibbons, in his request expected to arrive Tuesday at the White House, included initial repair and cleanup estimates approaching $4 million, and indicated that follow-up assessments could push that total higher.

Reid, D-Nev., and others in the state's congressional delegation, pledged to fight for the federal declaration.

"If an emergency is not declared, it will create major problems for the people of Fernley and Lyon County," said Reid, who was backed by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., in pressing for the order from Bush.

The 31-mile-long canal takes water from the Truckee River near Reno and delivers it to farms around Fallon, 60 miles east of Reno.

A similar rupture in the same vicinity flooded 60 homes in December 1996.