August 2. 2006 - The muddy waters reached Matt Cathey's yard midmorning on July 31, shortly after his wife and triplets evacuated their Grier Road home.

"It's really raging out there," he said, videotaping his firewood, half a trailer and several trees floating by in the overgrown river.

Several days of downpours caused the Santa Cruz River to spill over, just like in 1983 when the river broke free and killed three people. Water levels on July 31 actually surpassed those of the 1983 flood. A 7.3 mile bank protection levee kept most of the water from reaching people's homes this time around, though a few houses in Berry Acres flooded inside.

Officially, about 3 inches of rain fell in the Tucson area in the past week, according to measurements taken at the airport. In some parts of Pima County, as much as 8 inches of rain fell over the five days of storms.

Marana got hit by water from all the area's mountains plus city runoff, which is channeled through the metro area and dumped into the Santa Cruz. The river then carries that water into Marana.

About a foot-and-a-half of water covered the Marana Road and Interstate 10 interchange the morning of July 31.

A precision machinist, Cathey moved his family to Berry Acres less than a year ago. The previous homeowner told him that "it gets a little wet" when it rains.

The water reached the base of an unstable shack atop which Cathey stood. Earlier, he watched the water completely cover his yard in about 10 minutes.

"They said it's already worse than '83," he said. "My backyard is a river."

Cathey's wife and kids went to a friend's house. He tried to save as much as he could from the approaching river. He moved a few boxes of Christmas decorations before declaring, "It's not worth it. I just pray my house is okay."

While talking to his wife via cell phone, he watched the water inch closer to his house and decided to leave.

"I just told my wife I'm going to say a prayer and be on my way."

Marana Police officers evacuated Berry Acres about 9 a.m. on July 31. They set up road blocks on several roads the river had covered.

About 80 families left their homes. Some went back to fill up truck beds with belongings, while others hopped in their cars with next to nothing and drove away. Cathey's neighbor grabbed her baby and left everything else.

The town of Marana about 6 p.m. allowed residents to return to their homes, about two hours after Mayor Ed Honea declared Marana "a disaster area."

Marana Middle School cafeteria acted as a temporary shelter.

"So far, we've only had four people," Red Cross Volunteer Alan Drexler said about noon.

Helen Key, 85, passed the time reading a novel, her walker at her side. She lives on Grier Road with her son, who went to a nearby gas station for some food.

"In '83, we had a man swept off the Sanders Road bridge," said Key, who served on the town council from 1991 to 1995.

Officials closed the Sanders Road bridge, along with bridges on Marana, Ina and Avra Valley roads, where the Santa Cruz meets the CAP Canal.

Water completely covered Marana Road, just north of the Santa Cruz River. An electrical fence popped and fizzed under the current.

In the early afternoon, Marana public works crews sat at the Sanders Road bridge waiting to see if the water would overtake the structure. The river reached the bottom of the bridge, then receded about a foot, leaving mud and trees lodged beneath the bridge.

Earlier, cars lined Ina Road as onlookers held their breaths, watching an uprooted tree get caught on power lines hanging above the river. The tree yanked the two lowest lines, making the poles sway before shaking loose.

Water found its way into a handful of Marana homes, Honea said. Continental Ranch residents saw no flooding, thanks to the bank protection, he noted.

Inspectors have begun assessing damage. An early estimate at one property found up to $500,000 worth of damage to irrigation lines, officials said.

About 70 of the approximately 80 homes in Berry Acres set in the floodplain. The rest set in the floodway. Honea ventured to say that "not very many" residents had flood insurance. "It's expensive," he said. "And you can't buy it if you're in the floodway."

Pima County and Marana in recent years bought several of the homes in the floodway as part of a now-abandoned program to assist residents in Berry Acres.

Marana hopes to use state and possibly federal money to help residents cover any losses as a result of the flooding, Honea said.

The town of Marana has activated its 24-hour emergency operations center as forecasters have predicted a chance of scattered and isolated thunderstorms for the entire week.

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