TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES – From the sky, parts of southern New Mexico appear green and soggy, and three days of heavy rains have speckled the landscape with temporary lakes and swollen rivers.
That’s what Gov. Susana Martinez and other state officials saw Saturday during a daylong trip in a National Guard Black Hawk helicopter to survey flooding damage. She declared a state of emergency for the entire state Friday.
“We will be able to release as much money as is necessary to rebuild infrastructure,” the governor told a group of about 20 Truth or Consequences residents Saturday afternoon.
The state of emergency frees up $750,000 to rebuild roads and the governor said, after getting a bird’s-eye view of the damage, she expects to make additional such declarations to get more disaster response money.
Until then, she had advice for the TorC residents.
“Until the rain subsides, just stay out of the mountains. Stay on high ground,” she told the residents at the town’s civic center-turned-flood shelter. ” … Just because you have sunny skies, blue skies, doesn’t mean whatever has fallen up north can’t impact you here.”
Truth or Consequences and other parts of Sierra County were hammered Friday when floodwaters breached the sides of Animas Creek and swamped farms and fields here.
One man suffered a heart attack as he watched his sheep get swept away in the flood. He died later at a Las Cruces hospital.
“We were pulling the dead carcasses out of the river so his family didn’t have to do it,” resident Matt Heller said. “Neighbors helping neighbors.”
While here, she stepped onto the banks of the Animas Creek, where a dirt road ran through the normally dry river bed.
She heard from the Sierra County Sheriff how trees and other debris were carried downstream and saw for herself the soaked farmland and standing water.
The governor’s next stop was Las Vegas, where she was welcomed at the scene of some of the town’s worst flooding by some neighbors who came out to meet her.
There, floodwaters from the Gallinas River swelled above its banks, and flooded streets and homes through the center of town.
One man lost all the progress he made on a cabin he was building for semi-monthly family dinners. He guesses he lost at least $15,000 in property, but he couldn’t help but lament the loss of one sentimental item: his wife’s antique grill, where she made homemade tortillas.
“Material things we can replace,” resident Robert Ortiz said. “Of course I felt sad, but I didn’t want to show it.”
Her sneakers covered in mud, Martinez politely declined offers for coffee and emerged from hugs to remind residents that help was on the way through the emergency declaration.
She told reporters that she hopes the federal government will declare a national emergency.
“It’s a blessing to have the rain, she said. “We just wish we would have had it a little slower, a little gentler.”
Residents said they had no idea they were at risk of losing property to flooding. Some of them don’t have the insurance and others just lucked into having it.
After months of drought and starved crops, the heavy rains that drenched the state seem to have quenched a collective thirst, and now Las Vegas residents said they’re hoping some of the water can be put to good use.
“I don’t want to think of this as a negative, said resident Gloria Ortiz-Tafoya. “We were blessed with rain and now we should just do what we can with it.”