S. Utah residents recall destruction of massive flood 10 years ago

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SANTA CLARA, Utah -- Ten years ago residents in southern Utah began cleanup after a massive flood destroyed homes along the Santa Clara River.

City officials say it’s a day they still look back on as they plan for the future.

Normally the Santa Clara River is nothing more than a small trickle of water, but following a massive winter storm in January 2005, it swelled to almost four times its size.

“It was amazing to watch the sheer power of it -- and the thousands of trees that were on the river that are absolutely gone now,” said Santa Clara resident Brent Millett.

Millett and others remember the fear and uncertainty of those few days.

The massive flooding swept away close to 30 homes between Santa Clara and St. George, causing nearly $200 million in damage, but Santa Clara Mayor Rick Rosenberg said the impression it left was more than a widened river bank.

“The perception of the Santa Clara changed significantly that day, and it’s changed the way we do things now,” Rosenberg said.

Following the flood, city officials met with the water district to plan a way to prevent it from happening again. They cleared out vegetation from the widened river bed, installed armaments, and gave the river plenty of room to grow.

“There’s been a lot of changes made in the way development is done -- especially around the river,” Rosenberg said. “We’ve created a flood control authority to help us fund some of the maintenance that needs to happen.”

The defenses were put to the test five years later when another flood hit in the fall of 2010.

Although the flood was larger than 2005, Rosenberg said, there wasn’t near the damage because of the modifications made.

Many homeowners rebuilt, or continued building.

Deborah Dreagr lives down the street from where one home fell in the river. She said any fear they felt about flooding was replaced with hope when they saw the way the community came together in the wake of tragedy.

“We were not used to that and we were just in awe,” Dreagr said. “The flood may have taken the land, and that may have scared us, but living here with these wonderful people and realizing the sense of community that’s here, we felt rest assured.”