Pittman Wash | Photo: Julie Vazquez.

Homeless Population Vulnerable During Storm

In winds gusting to 66 miles an hour and rain beating down, the Valley was momentarily stopped and stupefied by an intense, fast-moving thunderstorm on June 30. But as residents and tourists took to social media to post pictures of lightning and backyards thick with hail, at least three people lost the fight in torrential floodwaters.

Considering that Las Vegas gets an average of just 4 inches of rain a year, the 1.18 inches of rain that fell in 30 minutes on June 30 was, as Erin Neff of the Regional Flood Control District called it, “impressive.” Rushing water levels rose from zero to 3 feet in the Duck Creek wash at Sunset Road within eight minutes.

“We’ve been trying to reiterate how dangerous washes are during flood events,” Neff said.

The Clark County Fire Department rescued eight people, three dogs and a cat during the storm, but some did not make it. Six of the eight people rescued were homeless, Neff said.

Matthew O’Brien, who wrote the book Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas (Huntington Press, 2007) and whose group called Shine a Light works to help homeless people in the Valley, took to Facebook immediately after the storms to share the stories of people hurt and killed during the flood. On July 1 he wrote, “The coroner hasn’t spoken, but the streets have. RIP, Sharon.” He has since given regular updates about the people who live in the tunnels and knew those who died during the storm, sharing that Shine a Light has provided lodging and help with final expenses for at least one victim’s family.

Clark County coroner John Fudenberg confirmed that there were three deaths during the flood, but could not release information about whether or not all three people were homeless because next of kin had not been found for one person. He added that this flooding event was particularly deadly.

“This is the most [homeless deaths] we’ve ever had from one flood,” Fudenberg said.

According to the annual Clark County Homeless Census, the number of people living on the streets has dropped by 17 percent since last year. The number of homeless people counted during the census, taken earlier this year, was 6,208. An estimated 2,477 of those live in shelters.