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Cleanup efforts could take weeks after flash floods rip through Southern Utah

Posted at 6:33 PM, Jun 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-30 23:19:42-04

SPRINGDALE, Utah — After flash floods ripped through Zion National Park and Springdale, crews and volunteers are starting to clean up the disastrous mess that was left behind.

It could take several weeks to repair the damage.

The flash floods hit several spots along the northern part of Springdale, and the southern part of Zion National Park Tuesday.

“The water was just floating up around the cars," said Stacy Cathey, recounting the torrential downpour that quickly turned into a full-on flood. "It was unbelievable... I'm telling you in 20 minutes that parking lot, most of the cars, was up to the tires. So, it was really crazy."

Cathey is visiting Zion from Atlanta with her husband Rodney Smith, and another couple. Smith described how the parking lot at Zion Canyon Village looked like a swimming pool.

The four of them were parked in a van at the bottom of the parking lot, realizing that they were in jeopardy of becoming trapped if they didn't race to higher ground.

“I just, pedal to the metal, get the heck out of there,” Smith recounted. They took videos that show the muddy water flowing with a fury. The flash flood originated with a rock slide and waterfall-like floodwaters crashing down from a cliff across the highway, witnesses said.

The rock, sludge and debris buried or destroyed everything in its path. Sidewalks and pavement buckled under the pressure. Cars became stranded. The first floor of some businesses became a muddy mess.

The flash flood came crashing across the south entrance of Zion National Park, as well as Watchman Campground and the visitor center's RV parking lot.

Amanda Rowland, spokesperson for Zion National Park, said they don't know how long it'll take to clean up and make repairs. They don't yet have a dollar estimate either.

"It’s really going to depend, because we’re actively assessing. So when you start to remove the dirt, you might have a boulder that's the size of a car. You might have a boulder that's the size of a smaller, maybe foot-by-foot boulder,” Rowland said. "So what we have to do is, as we're actively removing some of the debris, we're starting to understand how much and what it is."

For now, the Watchman Trail remains closed, as well as the RV parking lot. Park crews worked swiftly clearing away enough mud and dirt to open a few of the south entrance gates.

Zion Canyon Village was one of the hardest hit businesses in Springdale. The complex includes an outfitters business, pub and Cable Mountain Lodge.

First thing Wednesday morning, Steven Spillane, who is staying at Cable Mountain Lodge, showed up with a shovel and began digging out his rental SUV in the parking lot-turned mud pit.

“As my dad always said: Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you. We got got,” Spillane said, as he moved a shovelful of sludge from under his SUV to a pile next to him.

Spillane, his wife and their baby just arrived from Pennsylvania for a two-week road trip through Utah.

“Second day here, about 1500 miles to go," Spillane said, taking a break from his shoveling. "So this is us, traveling with a four-month old."

As he kicked off his trip by digging out, hours later crews used skid steers in the same parking lot in front of Cable Mountain Lodge to scoop up the slimy mess.

Nate Wells, General Manager of Zion Canyon Village, walked through the business courtyard where he said six to 12 inches of mud covered the whole section.

“As you can see, this is where a lot of the mudslide had come from the cliff that washed out across the road from us here," he said.

Behind him, volunteers shoveled the wet mud, and cleared out drains. Even kids joined in to help out.

Wells said it could be six to eight weeks for them to get everything cleaned up. Because this is their busy season, he said the lodge was full.

However, he said they found places to stay at some of their other properties for guests displaced by flooding on the first floor. He said everyone has been super understanding.

The community's helping hand, he indicated, has made the work less overwhelming.

"We’ve had dozens and dozens of volunteers show up all throughout day with heavy equipment, and people big and small working together and just making things happen," he said. "It's been incredible to see the progress that everyone’s made, and it’s just been a tremendous effort of good will."