Local News

Milder-Than-Expected Nora Sends Rains Over...

Posted September 26, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Wet but not too wild, Tropical Storm Nora blew through the desert Southwest without the property damage that was feared. Crop damage could total millions of dollars, however.

``We can breathe a sigh of relief,'' said Ralph Ogden, the sheriff in Yuma County, which was at ground zero Thursday as the former hurricane crossed into the United States after hopping Mexico's Baja Peninsula.

While property damage appeared light, one official said Nora caused up to $200 million in damage to crops in southwestern Arizona's Yuma County, a prime spot for winter vegetables, citrus and cotton.

Ken Evans, president of the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation, said Nora took the greatest toll on lettuce seeds and broccoli and cauliflower planted six weeks ago. They were washed away by rain or suffocated by mud, he said.

Downgraded Thursday evening to a tropical depression after winds fell below 39 mph, the storm then turned eastward toward the mountains of north-central Arizona.

There it dumped nearly 5 inches of rain on the small rural community of Bagdad, about 50 miles west of Prescott, while speeding farther inland early today.

Four inches of rain fell in Wickenburg, a town about 40 miles northwest of Phoenix, causing flooding along the Hassayama River and prompting some evacuations. An inch an hour was falling this morning in Prescott, a city about 80 miles north of Phoenix, but no significant problems were reported immediately.

Nora was still at tropical storm strength when its center passed over Yuma, where 2.3 inches of rain fell Thursday. The strongest wind gust was 54 mph.

While that's enough in an area that gets an average of 3.6 inches of rain a year, it is far better than forecasters' warnings that Nora could dump up to 10 inches.

``I lived many years in Florida, and this is nothing,'' said Norm Lucken, who retired to Yuma two months ago.

Still, in Somerton, about 14 miles to the south, the water got to about 3 feet, forcing the evacuation of about 750 residents from two mobile home parks. Diana Carrazco, 17, said she was wishing for a boat as she and her family waded through the waist-deep water.

``We were scared because the trailer was moving around from all the wind, and pieces were flying off it,'' said Carrazco. ``The water was just pouring through holes in the kitchen and bathroom.''

The residents were back in their homes by nightfall.

As Nora's remnants continued north along the Colorado River Valley, flooding shut down U.S. 95 between Yuma and Quartzite, 80 miles to the north. Twenty miles farther north, high water closed state Highway 72 between Parker and Bouse.

Along U.S. 93 between Phoenix and Kingman, most motorists sat out blinding rain as the storm moved eastward. They also complained as truckers barreled through standing water. ``All the big rigs are trying to go too fast,'' said Leisha Gagnier of Huachuca City, who was headed for Reno, Nev.

``They're a little crazy,'' said Paul Sewekow of Adelaide, Australia. ``Cowboys, we call them.'' He and his wife of Wednesday, Deborah, had arrived stateside only the past week in hope of escaping similar weather in Australia.

In Phoenix, the rainfall was no heavier than that of a typical powerful summer storm. Tucson received only a trace of rain.

``Hurray!'' said Mayor Ora Harn of Marana, just north of Tucson, which lies in the Santa Cruz River's flood plain and was badly flooded in 1983 and 1993.

``And of course we made a lot of preparations, but that's fine,'' Harn said. ``We really had to get at it and perfect our flood disaster plan, and it was a dry run.''

Nora moved quick enough that it did not dump too much rain in one place. Even so, much of Southern California and western Arizona got soaked.

Nora's outer reaches gave Los Angeles its first rainfall - almost half an inch - in a record 219 days. The storm dumped more than 2 inches of rain on Twentynine Palms and 1.58 inches on Palm Springs.

The storm caused leaky roofs and some minor flooding in El Centro, and 15 wooden telephone poles toppled near Seely. Microsoft founder Bill Gates canceled plans for a party for 6,000 employees at Fiesta Island in San Diego because of the rain.

Firefighters used a kayak to deliver sandbags to beach homes swamped by the high waves and called in bulldozers to build sand berms and cut channels to allow the water to flow back into the ocean.

Property damage appeared to be light but officials had yet to assess crop damage in California's Imperial Valley and southwestern Arizona.

``We don't like these kinds of storms,'' said Ray O'Connell, who farms in Brawley, Calif. ``They can break us.''

By JERRY NACHTIGAL,Associated Press Writer Copyright ©1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.