FERNLEY, Nev. — More residents who fled nearly 300 homes flooded when a canal's earthen bank collapsed hoped to return Monday, but they faced the damage caused by the wave of frigid water that surged through the town and then froze.
Some residents were permitted to return Sunday, and authorities hoped more could come back as water recedes in this northern Nevada desert town hard-hit by the West Coast storm system that piled up as much as 11 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada range and toppled nearly 500 miles of power lines in California.
At least 11 deaths were linked to the wet, stormy weather — eight in a Utah bus wreck — and three people were still missing in snow-covered mountains. Six lost snowmobilers were found alive Monday in Colorado in an area that had gotten 4 feet of snow.
Light snow was falling Monday morning in parts of the Sierra Nevada, but no storm warnings were in effect, the National Weather Service said.
Although some parts of California were getting a reprieve from the rain and snow Monday, in the mountains "there's a chance of snow and snow showers all the way through Thursday," weather service meteorologist Angus Barkhuff said.
About 97,000 homes and businesses in Northern California and the Central Valley were still without power Monday, down from more than 215,000 earlier Sunday. In the snowy Sierra foothills, repair crews had to use snowshoes, all-terrain vehicles and helicopters to reach the most remote spots.
Few had flood insurance
In Fernley, water had filled residential areas as much as 8 feet deep before freezing during the weekend.
"We don't know what we're going to do next," said Silvia Cansdales, a 32-year-old mother of three whose family — like most in town — didn't have flood insurance. "I don't even want to think about what we're going to return to."
Despite the ice, the water was receding Monday but many homes still had water at least 2 feet deep.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., planned to tour the area by helicopter Monday with federal and state aid officials.
The irrigation canal failure released a wave of frigid water into the town early Saturday. The canal was temporarily repaired by late in the day, but as much as a square mile of the town was still under water as ice impeded drainage.
An initial assessment Sunday found 290 homes received varying amounts of flood damage, said Kim Toulouse, spokesman for the Nevada Division of Emergency Management. No injuries were reported in the town of 20,000 people about 30 miles east of Reno.
Presidential emergency decree?
Representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency launched a preliminary damage assessment Sunday to determine if a request for a presidential emergency declaration was justified.
Despite heavy rain Friday, Gov. Jim Gibbons said the canal was not full when the bank failed. "This indicates to me there might have been a structural weakness over the years. Nobody knows and we don't want to speculate at this time," he said.
One possible factor that officials have mentioned was rodents burrowing holes in the earthen bank, which also was involved in a smaller collapse that flooded about 60 Fernley homes in December 1996.
But Ernie Schank, president of the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District, said Sunday that a geologist had turned up no evidence of burrowing animals near the site of the break. The cause may never be known, he said.
"It'll be hard to pinpoint the cause because the evidence is washed away," said Schank, whose agency operates the 31-mile-long canal.
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