After ‘100-year flood,’ Utah Gov. declares state of emergency as Moab mayor worries of more rain

The city remains open for business — and tourism — as some residents mop up wreckage, she said.

(Courtesy Jesse Vallantine) A large dirt mound is shown in the parking lot of Gloria's Cafe in Moab after a flash flood tore through the area on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022.

Two days after a “100-year flood,” Utah Gov. Spencer Cox declared a state of emergency in Grand, Emery and Wayne counties, allowing the state to continue offering assistance to local governments as needed, a news release stated.

“We’ve seen destructive flash floods tear through communities, damage homes and businesses, and endanger lives throughout southern Utah,” Cox said in a statement Tuesday evening. “State government remains ready to offer emergency coordination and expertise as these areas recover and rebuild. We also urge everyone to take flash flood warnings very seriously.”

The governor also mourned the death of a 29-year-old Arizona woman who was found dead in Zion National Park, within Washington County, on Monday after being swept up in a flash flood on Friday.

Flooding late Saturday tore through downtown Moab, dragging mud and debris into some businesses and homes. The mayor of the city on Tuesday afternoon said she and city officials were “quite worried” about the possibility of more rain this weekend.

Knowing that more intense thunderstorms and flash flooding events are the “trend of the future,” Mayor Joette Langianese said, the city also is going to start discussing how to prevent another similar disaster.

That’s a yearslong endeavor, she said. In the meantime, the people of Moab are concentrating on clearing the city’s streets before the skies are expected to darken Thursday.

The flooding Saturday was concentrated near Center Street and Main Street in Moab, after between 1 and 1½ inches of rain fell in the area. Between 7:10 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., nearly an inch fell in a 20-minute span.

One business that remains closed is Dewey’s Restaurant and Bar, which had shin-deep floodwater flowing through it, as shown in a video posted on social media.

On Tuesday, people were digging out their homes and businesses, Langianese said, and piling all that dirt in the streets. With support from Grand County and volunteers, crews have been busy filling trailers and pickup trucks with sediment to have it hauled away.

That way, if another storm comes, “it just doesn’t re-clog everything up,” the mayor said.

Jesse Vallantine, a manager at Gloria’s Cafe, said the flash flood hit several businesses that he has ties to, including Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn, The Spoke On Center, and Spitfire Smokehouse Bar & Taps. All are back open except for Spitfire, which is one of several businesses that lost running water due to a broken water main.

According to the city, businesses in the area of 100 West and Center Street should have water service restored Wednesday or Thursday. Until then, a boil order is in effect, and the city is providing bottled water to residents, as well as access to a water truck.

Vallantine said the cleanup effort has been “quite a bit of work.” The basement of Gloria’s Cafe was flooded with 2 inches of water, and the parking lot was under about a foot of water, he said. Staff had to close the cafe for a day, and although the business is back open, employees are still cleaning up. The flood deposited about 7 inches of sand and silt all over the property, he said.

(Jesse Vallantine) Mud and water is shown in the parking lot of Gloria's Cafe in Moab, after a flash flood.

Next door, at the Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn, the deluge broke one of the basement doors and flooded the basement with 6 inches of water. Vallantine said the only real damage, though, was the water shorting out a freezer in a garage.

The damage varies throughout Moab, though. For example, the Mill Creek Parkway — a recreational path that runs through the center of the city — is “completely decimated,” the mayor said.

“I think we were as prepared as anybody could be for an event that was unprecedented and that nobody was expecting,” she said. “You hear this is happening all around the United States. And we were in the same situation as every other community. We were prepared, but we were not expecting what we got.”

Langianese said the city is considering putting alert systems on flood gauges at the creek bed, so if flowing water gets up to a certain level, an alert will go out to the community that a flash flood is imminent. The city may also install another detention basin at the Mill Creek headwaters and in the Park Creek area, to catch extra water and debris.

That was the biggest issue with Saturday’s flood, she said, not just the volume of water, but the amount of debris that was carried downriver and got hung up on bridges and trees.

The city also is working to secure funding from FEMA, the state and other sources “so that we can really be prepared for what the future is going to hold in regards of the changing climate,” the mayor said. Utah’s governor declared a state of emergency later Tuesday.

The forecast may look rainy, but Langianese emphasized that Moab is still open — she just asked visitors to be mindful of areas that are under construction. The parks are in good shape, she said, and there are still things to see and places to stay at and eat at.

“Visitors are still welcome here,” she said.

Resources for Moab residents:

Sandbags are available for anyone who needs them at the Moab City Public Works yard at 470 Kane Creek Blvd. and at the Grand County Roads Department, 3500 South U.S. 191. Bring a shovel to fill your own bags.

Tree limbs and large debris at businesses and homes may be placed on the curb for removal throughout the next week.

People who are still without water due to the flood may access free showers at the Moab Recreation and Aquatic Center, 374 N. Park Ave.

Residents may submit information and details about flood damage to flood@moabcity.org.