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'A true disaster': Mount Charleston faces long road to recovery after Hilary

Residents don't know when they'll have access to clean tap water, and the area's trails are closed indefinitely.
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren

Floodwaters surrounded Sean and Katie Reeh’s home in Mount Charleston on Monday morning.

The couple awoke at 2 a.m. when they saw the remnants of Hurricane Hilary wreaking havoc on their small community that had become the center of the storm’s destruction. Water rushed down their street, totaling their Land Rover and sweeping away a motorcycle.

“We were on an island,” Sean told reporters on Friday as they were being escorted through the area to survey the damage. “Our house was completely surrounded.”

Floodwater pours down a road in Mount Charleston on Monday, Aug. 21, 2023. (Courtesy of Sean Reeh)

While the unprecedented storm did not bring much destruction to the rest of Nevada, Mount Charleston has seen extensive damage that officials are still assessing but predict will take months to repair. In the area, which includes seasonal and permanent residents nestled in mountains that are a refuge from the hotter temperatures of Las Vegas 45 minutes away, trails are closed and a small school will be shuttered indefinitely due to the damage. 

Residents can only access clean water by boiling tap water or picking up water bottles at locations throughout the mountain. There is no timetable for when tap water will be safe for drinking. Power was fully restored to the area Wednesday evening.

The Old Town subdivision, where the Reeh family lives, was the most heavily damaged by the storm, officials said Friday. The area is home to Earl B. Lundy Elementary School, a small public school where more than a dozen children from a range of grade levels learn in the same spaces.

The school, which is right next to the Reehs’ home, will be closed indefinitely because of extensive damage from the storm. Sean and Katie, whose 9-year-old son attends the school, said they have received minimal information about resumption plans.

“The school district has just contacted us saying that school’s closed, and they will assess things and call us back,” Katie said. “We're just … such a tight community, have all the ages learn together. It's very unique.”

The Old Town library’s parking lot was covered in 4 feet of rock on Friday. The fire station floor was coated with water and mud. Fallen trees laid across the sides of roads.

The mountain’s recreation areas, including Lee Canyon Ski Resort, are closed indefinitely due to extensive road damage, officials said. 

“It's important that we do keep people from coming up here that don't need to be up here,” said Jason Douglas, the assistant fire chief for Mount Charleston. “I get it, it's warm in Vegas, this is a great place to go, but the damage has still not been fully assessed.”

The storm caused extensive damage on State Routes 156, 157 and 158, which are the main roads leading up to and around the mountain. Local officials said on Monday that a 200-foot section of Route 157, which stretches from the northern Las Vegas Valley into the mountains, was damaged Sunday night. There are also chunks of more than 50 feet of road that are missing, as well as sections of shoulders and lanes, according to Mario Gomez of the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT).

The preliminary goal for fixing road damages and allowing recreation to begin again is Oct. 1. But officials said the extent of the road damage is still undetermined.

“The roads must remain close to the traveling public,” Gomez said. “They're not safe for anybody at this point in time.”

NDOT is working with a contractor to repair roads, with the primary goal of repairing Routes 156 and 157 at the same time and finishing repairs before the winter, when snow is common in Mount Charleston. Officials are also considering road upgrades — which would cost millions of dollars — to better prepare the area for future weather events, Gomez said.

Old Town resident Aimee Williams cares a bag of soil towels from her house on Friday, Aug. 25, 2023, after remnants of Hurricane Hilary flooded Mount Charleston over the weekend. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Residents of Mount Charleston have been encouraged to voluntarily evacuate their homes, but there is no mandatory evacuation order in place; some parts of the main roads are free from damage.

Aimee Williams has lived in Mount Charleston for 46 years. She received a call from her neighbor at 3 a.m. on Monday, when she realized how bad the storm was. As the sun came up, Williams saw a “wall of water” in front of her home.

“It was just a flash flood. It was a massive amount of water,” Williams said.

Her family lives in the city, so she can stay with them and doesn’t have to remain in the area while repairs are made.

The Reehs took their children to Sean’s parents home in Las Vegas, but the couple is still at their home, which did not suffer damage from the storm.

As officials briefed reporters on Friday, the couple embraced each other.

“It is a true disaster,” Sean said.

Residents can contact 702-455-0249 or access if they have any questions and for more information about the response to the storm.

Old Town residents Sean Reeh and his wife Katie during a news conference on Friday, Aug. 25, 2023, after remnants of Hurricane Hilary flooded Mount Charleston over the weekend. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

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