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Governor Sandoval Tours Flood Damage

Michelle Billman

State and local officials have been assessing flood damage in Northern Nevada, taking aerial tours of the region and inspecting on foot. Our News Director Michelle Billman joined the group as they visited downtown Reno to get the latest.

KUNR Host Michele Ravera: Michelle, what key updates can you provide on the situation?

KUNR News Director Michelle Billman: First, the region was lucky. Even though 415 homes were evacuated, no lives were lost in this incident. If you’re a homeowner or business owner impacted financially, then you don’t feel lucky, but the region as a whole was. Also, the Truckee River in downtown Reno did not breach the bridges and jump out of its banks. It was close, but that didn't happen. Bill Thomas, acting city manager of Reno, says concerns about flooding in that area are over, but spectators should still be careful because the water is moving swiftly and is icy cold.

Thomas also mentioned that even though the new Virginia St. Bridge held up in the storm, they are assessing other bridges:

“We have a lot of old bridges in downtown that were designed during a different era, and part of what we’re going to have to do as we move forward is probably work on fixing some of those bridges. The Virginia Street Bridge was the worst in the state, so we’re glad we’re able to fix that, but we have some other bridges that we need to get to.”

Credit Michelle Billman
The Truckee River in downtown Reno at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, January 9, 2017.

Billman: Moving forward, a large snow event is expected in the higher elevations, so crews are trying to hustle on removing debris from roadways across Washoe County and neighboring counties before their tasks turns to snow removal.

Ravera: There are many road closures, but one roadway that has endured significant damage is Pyramid Highway...tell me about that situation.

Billman: Dave Solero, who is the Community Services Director for Washoe County, explained that damage, so let's get his assessment:

“There are some areas of Pyramid Highway out on the tribal lands that are in very bad shape. I think NDOT is out there assessing, but there’s at least three sections of the roadway that are washed out. I think NDOT is out there looking at that, trying to figure out a plan on how to get that back together. Once they get that plan in place, I know they’ve requested some county crews out further on 447 on the way to Gerlach, and so we’ve been helping them out there as well.”

Governor Sandoval toured that area as well and called the damage "catastrophic" saying that state agencies would be deployed in order to avoid safety issues in the area.

Sandoval also talked about the immense amount of preparation and cooperation among agencies that occurred. That included having crews and machinery set up along the Truckee River to remove huge trees from the water as it flowed downstream.

“Well, and that’s what was happening upstream. In Truckee, you had that massive amount of rain up there which loosened the soil and you’ve got some of those trees on the banks of the Truckee. Once those get loose, they fall into the river and flow down. You know, you think about a 40-foot tree that’s probably traveling 40 miles per hours—that’s a massive amount of weight.”

Ravera: Moving forward, what can we expect in the coming days?

Billman: Certainly winter weather in the region is coming.

City and county officials are working on damage estimates and said they would have preliminary estimates in the next day.

Debris removal and early repair efforts are starting.

There's also going to be an investigation into whether mercury-contaminated soil from the Southeast Connector project flowed out during the storm. Sandoval said the state department of environmental protection will be assessing this to release details.

The Regional Transportation Commission, which oversees the Southeast Connector Project, has released a statement saying it doesn't expect there to be any risk to public health or the environment in the area, but the agency has to wait a week for the results of water quality samples to come in.

Ravera: Thank you.

Billman: And thank you.

Michelle Billman is the news director at KUNR Public Radio in Reno, Nevada where she oversees a scrappy crew of multimedia storytellers. She’s a transplant from the East Coast, where she earned degrees in creative writing and English from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and Virginia Tech.
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