Three minutes and 20 seconds.

That’s how long it took Tuesday for the Town of Clifton to close the flood gates at the San Francisco River bridge on U.S. 191.

Town Manager Rudy Perez and Clifton Police Chief Omar Negrete were pleased.

“If we’ve got water coming down we’re not going to be taking our time closing those gates, we want to do it as quickly as possible,” Perez said.

Any long-time Clifton resident knows the history behind the flood gates. Back in October 1983, Arizona was hit by a tropical storm that resulted in devastating floods that took the lives of 14 people.

Clifton, Duncan, Winkelman, Hayden, and Marana were left under water. Most of Clifton’s residents had to be evacuated, hundreds of homes were destroyed and most of the businesses were heavily damaged.

FEMA stepped in and required Clifton to take actions to protect its citizens from future flooding and the Clifton Levee was dedicated in 1994.

There are actually three flood gates, the one for trains, the one for vehicles and the last for pedestrians and every year the Town of Clifton stops traffic on both sides of the bridge to test them simultaneously.

“We do it every year to make sure everything is functioning and people know the proper steps to take in case we need to close them for real,” Negrete said.

Last year, there were a lot of new firefighters so they took their time and completed the practice run in nine minutes, Perez said. This year, there just happened to be a medical emergency requiring an ambulance to cross from one side of Clifton to the other around the time of the scheduled event, so the crews turned it into a real drill. As soon as the ambulance crossed the bridge into North Clifton on its way to a residence, the gate was closed and it re-opened well before the ambulance made its way back.

The town has closed the flood gates once since they were installed for a real emergency. On Sept. 15, 2013, the river rose dangerously high and forced the evacuation of a RV park, Negrete said.

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