Commentary: You can never be too prepared during flood season

Last week's flood preparedness community meeting hosted by the Town of Clarkdale should be taken on the road to every community in the Verde Valley.

Human nature being what it is, we tend to be a day late and a dollar short when it comes being adequately prepared for the ravages that can be imposed by the otherwise tranquil Verde River.

That's why a quick review of last week's Verde Independent story by Tom Tracey -- thoroughly recapping the sound advice offered by Clarkdale officials -- should be required reading for everyone in the Verde Valley.

Because, when a "Big One" comes, preparation is everything.

It bears emphasis that historically, February is the big month for floods. Apparently, it's always been that way. Genesis 7:11-12 ... in the second month, and on the 17th day of that month, that very day all the springs of the great deep broke through, and the floodgates of the heavens opened. And the rain fell on the earth 40 days and 40 nights.

The same is true in the Verde Valley. The three biggest floods in the recorded history of high-water marks on the Verde River occurred in February. The granddaddy of these gully-washers took place Feb. 20, 1993.

Now, here we are in February 2016. Flagstaff has had its best snow season in years. It even snowed in the Verde Valley this week. All it takes now is a dramatic shift in temperatures or warm coastal rains and all that snow heads south.

Unless you lived through the flood of 1993, it's really hard to understand just how severe a Verde River flood can be. Words do not do it justice.

Frank Brewsaugh, then the field office chief for the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, said the floodwaters crested at 63,000 cfs at the Clarkdale gauge station and 105,000 cfs at the monitoring station nine miles southeast of Camp Verde.

At the Tuzigoot Bridge, the high-water mark topped out at 26.39 feet. Frank and Peggy Funk of Bridgeport said the river rose 35 feet near their property.

Dallas Lane, then a captain with the Cottonwood Fire Department and local disaster services chairman for the American Red Cross, told The Verde Independent that the local devastation occurred down a 26-mile stretch of the Verde River, one-half mile wide, from Patio Town in Clarkdale to Verde Lakes Estates in Camp Verde.

Had it not been for some remarkable heroism by two Verde Rural fire fighters - and an art teacher from Mingus Union High School - many people would not have lived through the night. They braved an unimaginable raging Verde River in a 25-horsepower, 14 ½-foot shallow draft tri-hull boat and rescued nine families who were stranded in or on top of their homes. In one of those rescues, a mobile home had tipped over on its side and had filled with water nearly to the ceiling. The man in the home told the rescue people to invest their efforts elsewhere because he was a "goner."

Miraculously, no one died that night, but 250 families had to be evacuated from their homes.

When will the next "Big One" come? Who knows? But if history is any indication, you cannot ignore the threat in February.

And if we want to pay close attention to our own Verde Valley history, we can never be too prepared.

-- Dan Engler

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