Starting next week, the drainage tunnels beneath the Las Vegas Strip will be cleared of unhoused people as part of Super Bowl preparations. A similar police sweep was conducted before the F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix in November.
The tunnels are flood channels constructed after a 1975 flash flood trashed 300 cars parked in the Caesars Palace parking lot. (Image: thetravel.com)
Though no official reason is ever given, it’s believed this precaution is undertaken to thwart tunnel access to terrorists seeking to plant explosive devices near large U.S. gatherings.
The tunnels are part of a 600-mile system of flood channels begun in the late ’70s to redirect storm water underneath the Strip and its surrounding communities.
Though it’s technically illegal for anyone without authorization to enter them, they house 1,500 people who can’t afford to pay rent and/or suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues. Most tunnel residents shun shelters because they forbid them from living with their spouses and/or pets.
That’s according to Shine A Light, a 501(c)3 nonprofit formed to try to help those wanting to return to society and to care for those who don’t.
“Since F1, the talk about the A’s coming here, the stadium, all the presence downtown, there’s definitely been more of a presence in trying to clear out the tunnels around the Strip, and to keep it cleared out, more so than in the past,” Shine A Light Outreach director Robert Banghart, himself a former tunnel resident, told KVVU-TV/Las Vegas.
This map shows the locations of current and future flood channels all around Las Vegas. (Image: Las Vegas Regional Flood Control District)
The tunnels turn out to be an ideal shelter from the unrelenting summer heat, and from the police officers who break up homeless encampments on the streets above.
Until it rains. Then they become death traps.
At least once a year — sometimes several — bodies are washed through the tunnels toward Lake Mead by the runoff from surprise rainstorms in the mountains west of town.
Every time it rains, it feels like we lose somebody,” Banghart told KVVU. “And it’s not something that should be acceptable to anybody and I don’t think it is.”
Police said they will make in-person announcements about their upcoming sweep and offer other housing options to the displaced. They will remove all barriers to tunnel entry following the Super Bowl.
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