The BIG Flood
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.
February has always been a big month for floods. 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.
Until then, the severity of Verde River floods was measured by the deluge from February 1920, when floodwaters topped out at 50,600 cubic feet per second at the Clarkdale gauge station, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
In modern memory, the high-water mark most locals measured Verde floods by occurred Feb. 15, 1980. Frank and Peggy Funk of Bridgeport had commemorated that flood with a marker near their riverfront property that showed the river rose 27 feet in the 1980 flood.
"It went eight feet higher than the old mark," Peggy Funk told The Verde Independent following the Feb. 20, 1993 flood. "This time it measured at 35 feet. It came up to the crest of our bank, right up near the gazebo."
Dallas Lane, then a captain with the Cottonwood Fire Department and local disaster services chairman for the American Red Cross, said 250 families had to be evacuated from their homes. Lane 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.
"This is the most water that has ever come through here," Lane told the newspaper.
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.
"This is the extreme for our period of record," said Brewsaugh, who added the USGS flood monitoring records dated back to 1915.
Former Verde Rural Fire Chief Jim King said the 1993 flood overwhelmed local emergency service professionals. "We're supposed to be experts at rescue operations," King told The Verde Independent, "but you can take that so-called 'expert' badge off when you're in a situation like this.
"The water came up so rapidly that after just 15 minutes we could no longer get to a lot of the houses. We tried a canoe, and that didn't work. We tried a flat-bottom boat, and that didn't work. It seemed that everything we tried was ineffective because of the swiftness of the water and how fast it was rising."
The hero of the day, said King, was former Mingus Union High School art teacher David Lash. "He saved our butts," said King.
Lash showed up at about 2:30 a.m. to offer his help with a 25-horsepower, 14 ½-foot shallow draft tri-hull boat. Lash called it his "Lee's Ferry boat." It proved to be the perfect craft for negotiating the swift current of the hellish floodwaters.
Before the break of dawn, Lash and Verde Rural firemen Scott Schwisow and Dave Cochrane 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." Lash broke out a window and crawled through the opening while the two firemen held his feet and pulled the elderly man back to the boat.
"My heart just broke when we got him in the boat," Lash told The Verde Independent. "He was so old, so scared and really kind of beat up."
Lash, an expert white-water kayaker, said the rescue operation represented the high-end of his courage and boating skills. In addition to negotiating the current, Lash said he was constantly having to avoid collisions with uprooted trees, travel trailers, propane tanks, horses and cows.
"This was very ugly and I don't want to ever be in water like that again," said Lash.