CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A record six inches of rain in less than four hours sent five-foot walls of water crashing through the city, trapping persons in swamped cars and in basements where they had sought shelter from tornadoes, officials said Friday. At least 12 persons were killed and 70 injured, two of them seriously.
Authorities estimated that damage would reach millions of dollars.
"It happened so fast," said Lois Nordberg, a north Cheyenne resident who had climbed to her roof to avoid rising waters. "I was watching through the kitchen window, and the water was flowing down the street . . . . I walked into the kitchen, and there was water coming through the door. In five minutes, it was everywhere."
The storm struck at nightfall Thursday with widespread lightning, which ignited several fires, and two inches of hail that piled into drifts up to six feet high.
Mud, trees and other debris covered the city Friday, Sheriff's Lt. Dan Broyles said. Some older houses had collapsed under the pressure of the mud and water.
Sheriff's Capt. Walter Vanatta said that 100 deputies and police officers and 40 National Guardsmen searched homes and piles of debris in a hunt for victims. He said that the search probably would last through today.
The flooding was at its worst near the downtown train station along Crow Creek and on the city's north side along Dry Creek. However, extensive flooding occurred throughout the city because an unusual atmospheric condition held the storm over Cheyenne throughout its fury.
"If that was the 100-year flood, I don't think Cheyenne should have another one for 2,000 years," Mayor Don Erickson said.
Laramie County Coroner Roger Radomsky said that an elderly man suffered a fatal heart attack when cleaning up debris and that the other victims had drowned. Erickson said that 70 persons were treated at hospitals but only two remained hospitalized.
Among the dead was a sheriff's deputy, Robert van Alyne Jr., 33, who had tied himself to a utility pole to help three persons trapped in a sinking car. He got two of them out but, when he was trying to rescue a young girl, the rope holding him broke, sending him and the child into the torrent.
Trapped in Basement
Another victim was a 73-year-old woman who had told her children by telephone Thursday night that she was going to her basement after hearing tornado sirens. Rescue workers Friday found her body in the basement under eight feet of water.
The storm spawned three tornadoes, but no damage from the twisters was reported.
Erickson said that most of the deaths occurred on the city's north side along Dry Creek, which normally lives up to its name. On Thursday night, however, a wall of water raced down it, sweeping away persons in their cars and inundating basements and first floors of homes.
Deputy Police Chief Larry Marsh said that residents participated in rescue operations throughout the night. "There are a lot of heroes in Cheyenne this morning," he said.
Rescue efforts were considerably slowed because floodwaters washed out emergency communications in the police department and the basement of the county courthouse. The emergency room at Cheyenne Memorial Hospital, one of two in the city, was flooded, forcing doctors to work on the injured in the cafeteria.
Several areas had been blacked out, but, by midday Friday, power was restored to most of the city, the second largest in Wyoming, with 47,000 persons.
The National Weather Service said that a record 6.06 inches of rain fell in only 3 1/2 hours on ground already saturated by 10 days of rainfall. The previous record for a 24-hour period in Cheyenne was 4.7 inches, set on July 15, 1896, forecaster Christopher Scott said.