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Underneath The Neon: Life And Death In The Las Vegas Tunnels


During the 1970's and early 80's, Las Vegas suffered through a number of severe floods.  With an annual precipitation of 4.17 inches spread over an average of 21 days, a number of these floods, such as the July 3, 1975 "Caesars Palace" flood, were a result of rainfall amounts that produced a few inches within a matter of hours.  Being ill-equipped with patch-work and piecemeal band-aids of the time, the city was susceptible to flash-floods that resulted in millions of dollars in losses and damages as well as fatalities.  


In 1985, legislation was passed by the state of Nevada allowing for the creation of local flood control districts.  The following year, the Clark County Regional Flood Control District was created to put forth a coordinated effort to develop and implement a comprehensive flood control plan for the valley.  


Today, the effort is a little over 75% complete leaving some areas of the valley vulnerable.  During the last 30+ years of unprecedented growth, perhaps the most vulnerable are those who have fallen on hard times and seek solace by living in the flood channel tunnels under the Las Vegas Strip. Rumored to have numbered close to 1,000 shelter-seekers at its peak, the tunnels, meant to improve safety for those in the flash-flood zones above ground, have unfortunately led to a number of fatalities for those choosing to live there.  


The First Short Video


The first short video finds Matthew O'Brien, author of Beneath The Neon, chronicling the tunnels and their residents and what it's like to live in the tunnels.  You can visit O'Brien's "Shine a Light" program that seeks to help with services and support for those in need here.  


The Second Video


The second video presents Tapped News correspondant Matthew Graham's quest to document the living conditions in the tunnels.  Matthew would be met with wary residents who watch out for and protect one another.  Matthew later meets up with Matthew O'Brien who helped him gain access to make his short film.  One of the more interesting encounters is with "John," a middle-aged man who willingly gave up a good life having owned several banks and companies, leaving it all behind for his wife to live under the tunnels.  


The Third Video


The third video, a vlog by Living In Las Vegas, takes you on an expedition below the surface, revealing graffiti artwork and where some of the tunnels actually come out to near the strip.  


The Fourth and Fifth Videos


The fourth and fifth videos are parts 1 & 2 of a production by Al Jazeera English "Witness" documenting more of the living conditions for hundreds of people and how difficult it is for some of them to leave.  


The Final Video


The final video, a presentation from The Guardian's "Outside In America," shows some of the elaborate set-ups people have rigged together to survive day-to-day in the tunnels.  


Underneath The Neon: Life And Death In The Las Vegas Tunnels

Screenshot from Seeker Stories, A Discovery Channel Digital Network Production.

Facts & Figures

Total Spent On Flood Control:  As of 2014, $1.7 billion had been spent since the creation of the Regional Flood Control District in 1985.  


Number of Detention Basins:  Nearing a hundred and counting.  Major facilities include: 


  • Angel Park Detention Basin
  • Anthem Detention Basin
  • Black Mountain Detention Basin
  • Caballo Basin
  • Horse Diamond Basin
  • Cheyenne Peaking Basin
  • Confluence Detention Basin
  • Desert Inn Detention Basin
  • East C-1 Detention Basin
  • Equestrian Detention Basin
  • Fort Apache Detention Basin
  • Gowan Central Detention Basin
  • Gowan South Detention Basin
  • Indian Springs Detention Basin
  • Kyle Canyon Detention Basin
  • The Lakes Detention Basin
  • Lone Mountain Detention Basin
  • Lower Blue Diamond Detention Basin
  • Lower Duck Creek Detention Basin
  • McCullough Hills Detention Basin
  • Meadows Detention Basin
  • Mission Hills Detention Basin
  • Oakey Detention Basin
  • Pioneer Detention Basin
  • Pittman East Detention Basin
  • Pittman Park Detention Basin
  • Red Rock Detention Basin
  • R-4 Detention Basin
  • Tropicana Wash Detention Basin
  • Upper Flamingo Detention Basin
  • Van Buskirk Detention Basin
  • Vandenberg Detention Basin
  • Veterans Detention Basin
  • Windmill Wash Detention Basin

Number of Miles of Channels:  Hundreds with approximately 205 more miles planned.   The major channels include: 


  • Beltway Channel
  • Duck Creek Wash
  • Flamingo Wash
  • Halfway Wash
  • Las Vegas Wash
  • Naples Channel
  • Pittman Wash
  • Sloan Channel
  • Tropicana Wash

Number of Flood Related Deaths:  Since 1960, there have been 32 flood-related deaths in Clark County.  


Active Number of Flood Insurance Policies in Nevada:  12,500 - 11,600 of those parcels are located in Clark County


Living In The Hidden Tunnels Of Las Vegas – Seeker, A Discovery Digital Network (6:33)

Out of Sight – Tapped News (25:05)

Las Vegas Tunnels Underground City – Living In Las Vegas (13:41)

Witness: Under The Neon Part 1 – Al Jazeera English (13:10)

Witness: Under the Neon Part 2 – Al Jazeera English (9:36)

‘I came down here to be forgotten’: life in the tunnels beneath Las Vegas – The Guardian (4:35)

Media Coverage


1986 Time Capsule

No 1 song March 22, 1986:  These Dreams - Heart         

No 1 Movie March 22, 1986:  Police Academy 3: Back In Training      

No. 1 Book, March 22, 1986:  The Bourne Supremacy - Robert Ludlum 

No. 1 TV Show 1986:  The Cosby Show

Cost For 1 Gallon Of Gas: $0.89

Average Income in 1986: $22,400.00

Average New Home Cost in March of 1986: $89,430

Average Monthly Rent: $350.00

Average New Car Cost in 1986: $9,255.00

Postage Stamp Cost in 1986: $0.22

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