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Heavy rain causes flash flooding, mudslides and closures

Crews finish removing debris from Highway 89 following a mudslide in Spanish Fork Canyon near Thistle on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019. Photo: Colter Peterson, Deseret News

Heavy rain caused flash flooding and mudslides in Spanish Fork Canyon, Payson Canyon and in Little Cottonwood Canyon, and UDOT now says it may be Friday evening before US 6 is reopened between the Thistle Junction and Helper.

Nine mudslides closed Little Cottonwood Canyon around 8:00 p.m. Thursday. The Utah Department of Transportation expects the highway to stay closed until at least Friday evening.

UPD Sgt. Ken Hansen says, thankfully, cell service was good in the area between Tanners Flat and Gate B, and he did not believe there were any injuries.

UDOT Roadway Operations Manager Jake Brown says large trees and car-sized boulders tumbled onto the highway. He says he has never seen anything like this in 18 years on the job.

“The whole draw up above us where this equipment is working [to clear the road] is completely emptied out. It’s unbelievable how much material was moved by water,” Brown says.

One of the mudslides also uncovered a high pressure gas line.

“Our culvert filled in and was basically non-functioning. The water came over the road and washed out the hillside, which exposed the high pressure gas line,” Brown says.

The line is not punctured, so it will be reburied.

South Jordan resident Ashley Hanks told KSL NewsRadio she encountered several mudslides in Little Cottonwood Canyon before getting stuck heading back to Snowbird.

“We made it just fine through a few smaller flooded areas with rocks, but as soon as we came to the section where the floods just flashed right in front of us, there was a car in front of me so we just stopped, and it started getting wider, coming faster up the canyon, so I reversed and flipped back around, deciding to go back up toward Snowbird, only to run into another mudslide near Tanner’s Flat,” according to Hanks.

She says she got out, wondering what she would do next. Another mudslide stopped her about a mile up the road.  She says about 30 minutes later, a sheriff’s deputy led the way as about ten cars followed toward Snowbird where she and her kids finally made it to safety for the night.

None of the cars trapped between those two mudslides were damaged. People who were evacuated to Snowbird were able to drive home Friday morning.

Meanwhile, in Utah County, UDOT says a section of Spanish Fork Canyon west of Tie Fork rest area is expected to remain closed until possibly 6 p.m. Friday.  Utah County Sheriff’s spokesman Spencer Cannon says as much as four feet of mud came across the roadway near MP 202.

In Elk Ridge, some homes were evacuated in Loafer Canyon due to flash floods about 7:30 p.m.  A group of people were stranded up in a cabin, unharmed, due to mudslides reported there.

Cannon says there were no injuries reported in Payson Canyon above the Grotto after some people got stranded above a mudslide, and were not believed to be in harm’s way. Payson Canyon had reopened by late Friday afternoon.

Additional Reporting: Kelli Pierce and Lindsay Aerts