Our network

Phoenix-area roadways deluged by flash floods | News

Title (Max 100 Characters)

Phoenix-area roadways deluged by flash floods

PHOENIX (AZCentral) -- Heavy wet storms blew through parts of metro Phoenix on Tuesday morning, closing Interstate 17 in a river of mud and trapping motorists, as authorities responded to multiple water rescue scenes involving stuck drivers elsewhere.

Meteorologists say the heaviest of the storms has passed but that rain is expected to fall into the early afternoon, and residents of Black Canyon City, north of Phoenix, were advised to prepare for evacuations from rising waters. A mandatory evacuation order was issued for the River's Edge Trailer Park by 11 a.m. and a shelter at Canyon Elementary School was expected to open by noon.

Rock slides were also reported in the area, according to Yavapai County officials.

The rains, flooding and debris forced authorities to close or restrict traffic on nearly two dozen roadways in Maricopa County on Tuesday morning.

Is your property on a floodplain?

Why does flash flooding happen?

By 9:45 a.m., water was flooding down the northbound lanes of Interstate 17 north of the Valley near Dixileta Road reducing traffic to at least one lane. The Arizona Department of Transportation reported that floodwaters had reached the highway and recommended drivers avoid the area north of Happy Valley Road.

The water forced ADOT to close I-17 at Happy Valley Road about 10:15 a.m. Tuesday and though southbound lanes were reopened by 11:15 a.m., restrictions remained in place in the flooded northbound lanes. some southbound lanes started to reopen by 10:45 a.m.

The flooding prompted Central Arizona Project officials to alert cities customers to possible turbidity in the water, according to a CAP spokesman, which could require additional treatment at plants.

"There is no threat to the public from their drinking water," said Bob Barrett, a CAP spokesman. "Everybody is safe."

About three inches of rain fell in a watershed in the area and rushed over the banks of Skunk Creek, said Joe Munoz, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Flood Control District.

Construction crews were also working in the area and had prepared a small berm meant to divert water, Munoz said, but the berm failed.

"There's just a massive amount of water coming," he said. "Three inches of rain in the watershed is huge."

ADOT is sending heavy machinery to the area to remove silt and debris after the waters subside. For now, all ADOT and motorists can do is avoid the area. None of the motorists in the flood waters was in immediate danger, said Tim Tait, an ADOT spokesman.

"It will be a muddy mess once the water recedes. This will be an issue all day," ADOT spokesman Tim Tait said

There are no designated detours, Tait said, because parts of the nearby Carefree Highway and local streets are also flooded.

ADOT cannot recall an event like this in past flash floods. This area of I-17 was widened and reconstructed in recent years, but Tait said it didn't initially appear that the work had contributed to this morning's mess.

"It's water from an unexpected location," Tait said.

Munoz, said floodwaters from I-17 spilled into the main Central Arizona Project canal, contaminating it.

"That water has all kinds of stuff in it: dead bugs, dead snakes, mud, everything. That's contamination," Munoz said.

The cities have been notified and can direct their water treatment plants to process the dirty flood water if they want.

CAP administrators also sent helicopters to the area to determine if the canal has topped its banks but it had not by late Tuesday morning, Barrett said.

The system was designed to divert flood waters over the canal, Barrett said, not in it.

"I've been here since 1998 and I can't recall this ever happening before," he said.

The storm's impact was expected to linger into the afternoon with another round of rain in the forecast, Munoz said. "That will cause issues this afternoon. We are expecting a lot of rain in a short time."

The rain from the morning forced emergency crews to respond to calls for water rescues throughout the day.

Footage showed a minivan near 153rd Avenue and Dynamite Boulevard that was submerged up to its windows. Emergency crews made their way to the vehicle and pulled out the driver shortly before 12 p.m., struggling against the current to pull the motorist to safety.

The storm left nearly 3,000 homes without power in the West Valley, according to SRP, and the utility expected power to be restored to those customers by 8:30 a.m.

Power outages again became a problem for Phoenix residents when nearly 700 homes between 24th and 40th streets and Bethany Home and Indian School roads lost power early Tuesday afternoon.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for Maricopa County that was expected to remain in place until 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Another flood advisory was issued about 8:15 a.m. for Yavapai County, including Black Canyon City and Cordes Junction, according to the National Weather Service. The advisory was expected to remain in place until 10:15 a.m.

The flood-related incidents were mainly concentrated in the far north Valley Tuesday morning, including areas of New River.

By 8 a.m. fire crews were on scene at a flooded road in north Phoenix where a motorist in an SUV was stranded as water as high as the vehicle's bumper rushed by.

Daisy Mountain Fire Capt. Dave Wilson said crews performed at least three water rescues Tuesday morning.

"In some cases they were just roadways that were washed out from washes that were next to the road and overflowed into the roadway," Wilson said. "In some cases, the water has just been pushing vehicles right off the roadway and down the stream."

Traffic cameras indicated that the Greenway Road underpass at Interstate 17 was flooded shortly after 7 a.m. Tuesday. The underpass was cleared by about 9:30 a.m., according to ADOT. The transportation department reported morning closures on parts of Grand Avenue in the West Valley and on Carefree Highway to the north.

A Phoenix police spokesman reported shortly after 7:30 a.m. that flooding was impacting traffic in north Phoenix near Cave Creek and Pinnacle Peak roads.

Earlier in the morning, footage also showed some minor street flooding in south Phoenix near 24th Avenue and Dobbins Road, though cars were still passing through the area.

Another shot of the area showed a couple pushing their gray sedan through a partially flooded road near 43rd Avenue and Carver Road.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport reported some slight delays related to the weather Tuesday morning but officials said they expected normal operations to resume by 7 a.m.