Student swept under car, vehicle sucked into sinkhole during flash flooding in Washington County

ST. GEORGE — A thunderstorm that whipped through Washington County on Sunday evening brought torrential rain that displaced several vehicles – including into a sinkhole – and sent one Dixie State University student to the hospital.

Dixie State University Chief of Campus Police Blair Barfuss told St George News that the rain started causing issues at approximately 10:30 p.m., and multiple buildings on campus were subsequently flooded.

“We had flooding at the science building, at the Snow building, at the Burns Arena, at Campus View housing and some minor flooding at two or three other locations on campus,” Barfuss said.

The whole main floor at Red Mountain Student Housing, which is off the Dixie State campus, had as much as 5 feet of water in it, he said.

“On campus there were no students displaced, but we’re working with some flooding and some issues with our buildings,” Barfuss said, adding that the big problems were on the streets around campus.

The roads were closed off at different points throughout the night and were handled by the St. George Police Department.

Barfuss said that on 1000 East near Red Mountain University Housing, the water and rocks pushed several vehicles into others.

Thunderstorm wreaks havoc through Washington County, Utah, Aug. 23, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Jodi Gardner, St. George News

He said the officers who worked over the night shift said that multiple students wanted to go out and watch the storm and ended up getting caught in the water going down the roads.

“We’re still following up on information, but our football team members went out and helped students get out of the water along 1000 East.”

One student was trapped under a car and injured as a result.

“The water took her under the car,” he said, “and she got trapped under there. She had some serious medical problems result from it, so she was transported by St. George Fire to the hospital.”

He said as of Monday morning, the student was reported as being in stable condition.

“Her parents are on the way here too, to be with her.”

Barfuss said he put out a timely warning before the storm about the National Weather Warning, and the risk management group and emergency management groups and facilities did a “great job finding what was problematic and starting to work to rectify it.”

Thunderstorm wreaks havoc through Washington County, Utah, Aug. 23, 2020 | Photo submitted by reader, St. George News

Dixie State students return to campus Monday, and none of the wreckage will disrupt class time schedules or meeting locations. The social distancing measures Dixie State has taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic means that approximately half of the student population will be on campus on Monday, which benefits their cleanup efforts from the flooding, Barfuss said.

There is no standing water on campus, but there are large piles of dirt, rock and debris as well some displaced cars along the roadways.

The flooding and the downed debris stretched across the city, which made response by university personnel a little difficult, Barfuss said, because of road closures.

In other areas of the city, similar issues were reported, including one car that was taken by a sinkhole located in front of the Ramada Inn located at 1440 E. St. George Boulevard.

Thunderstorm wreaks havoc through Washington County, Utah, Aug. 23, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Amy Hughes, St. George News

“I don’t even know that they could have got it out,” St. George Police Officer Tiffany Atkin told St. George News. “They were talking about getting a tow truck to get it out, and I’m like, ‘Do not order a tow truck to get near that hole because we don’t know if it’s going to get bigger.”

She said she didn’t know type of car it was because no one could get too close.

Atkin said the road on Red Hills Parkway between 300 North and Industrial was still closed as of Monday morning’s commute.

“It’s going to take some time,” she said.

There was another sinkhole that occurred near 1400 East and Foremaster Ridge, she said.

Atkin said many cars had to get towed out of the road because they were stranded.

“We tried to have the tow truck driver just at least tow them off the road, so that when the water cleared, they weren’t a traffic hazard.”

St. George News also received reports of flooding that displaced residents in parts of the city.

Daralyn Potter, a resident and local teacher, told St. George News she was in a back room in her apartment reading when the storm started.

“My cat went to go hide,” she said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had a storm like that and she was a little nervous.”

Thunderstorm wreaks havoc through Washington County, Utah, Aug. 23, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Sam LeBaron, St. George News

When she got up to go check on her cat, she noticed the carpet was wet, which took her aback because she didn’t have a drink. She thought at first that it might have been her cat. But as she walked down the hall, she realized that something just wasn’t right.

“As I turned into the kitchen, there was probably 2 to 3 inches of muddy water covering the bottom of my kitchen and it was seeping into my living room carpet,” she said. “And so I was walking through barefoot, opening cupboards thinking, ‘OK, did a pipe break? Is it my dishwasher?’ But nope, it was dry under my counters. It was just covered everywhere else.”

She said as she hurried around to unplug cords, she turned around the corner and realized the water was seeping up from the ground and through the walls, which was when she realized she needed to leave. She packed up her clothes, put her cat in a carrier and got into her car to drive to her sister’s.

By that time, she said the rain was coming down so hard that there were multiple spots along her way that she almost couldn’t drive through because of the standing water.

Updated Aug. 24 at 5:15 p.m. to include Daralyn Potter’s personal story.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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