Santa Fe area digs out after 1,000-year storm


SANTA FE – The only warning that Yuki Jalalon got that something unusual was about to happen Monday night was her dog’s bark.

“We were like, what is he barking at?” said Jalalon as she stood in the mud in La Cienega Tuesday afternoon.

“The next thing we know, there’s three or four feet of water everywhere,” she said.

The family compound where Jalalon lives was hit hard by the flash flood that resulted from more than 3 inches of rain — some amateurs measured the storm at up to 5 inches — that came down in just an hour or so in Santa Fe Monday night.

A meteorologist with the National Weather Service said it was a 1,000-year occurrence. It flooded part of the basement of City Hall downtown, and several other public buildings including the Genoveva Chavez Community Center, the Fort Marcy and Salvador Perez recreation centers and the mid-city La Farge Library.

While the storm was focused in town, a lot of the water made it downstream to La Cienega, a rural area south of the city limits.

The property where Jalalon and others were digging out Tuesday is not far from Cienega Creek, an extension of the Arroyo Chamiso and the Arroyo Hondo, which carry stormwater from a large swath of Santa Fe. Social media posts with video show the Arroyo Chamiso as it was converted into a raging brown river with high waves and tumbling rocks.

The water’s energy apparently hadn’t dissipated much by the time it reached La Cienega. “Every heard a river coming in?” asked Jalalon. “That’s exactly what it sounded like, a river with a lot of water in it.” She’d never seen anything like it in her 10 years on the premises.

The result was flooding in three houses. One was particularly hard hit. The muddy water left behind a waterline about three feet up the wall and a couple of inches of mud on the floor. A refrigerator that had been floating during the storm was left flat on its back. Cars and trucks on the lot also were flooded and logs and other debris were everywhere.

Back in town, several city government buildings were flooded and some businesses and private residents reported taking on water.

Emergency services personnel performed seven swift-water rescues Monday night, including one by firefighters who pulled two women from a flooded car on Cerrillos Road.

No one was seriously hurt in the flood and no one took advantage of an emergency shelter set up at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center by the city and American Red Cross.

City spokesman Matt Ross said four two-person crews worked through the night to address the most serious problems and clear roads of debris. That worked continued during the day with additional crews during the day.

“We’re prioritizing public safety issues, clearing thoroughfares and bridges,” Ross said.

Hardest hit

While rain was reported throughout the state Monday night, Kerry Jones, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, said Santa Fe got hit the hardest.

“The heaviest rain struck the center of Santa Fe from the Plaza and southwest for about a mile to Ashbaugh Park,” he said of the park just west of Santa Fe Indian School.

It was near that location that an employee of Dungeon Tattoo and Piercing posted a video of emergency responders using ropes to rescue two young women occupants of a compact car stuck on Cerrillos Road with water rushing over the front bumper.

A rain monitoring gauge near the busy intersection of Cerrillos and St. Michael’s Drive recorded 3.57 inches of rain, the most recorded since that station started collecting data in 1991, Jones said.

Left to right, Manuel Chavez, Javier Medrano and Kevin Behan shovel mud out of a home in La Cienega after it was flooded Monday night
Left to right, Manuel Chavez, Javier Medrano and Kevin Behan shovel mud out of a home in La Cienega after it was flooded Monday night. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The regional dispatch center received 60 calls for service between 7 p.m. and midnight, Ross said.

The thrust of the thunderstorm hit Santa Fe about 7 p.m. Monday and lasted for about an hour, though it continued to rain into the night.

Jones said the 3 inches that fell in the first three hours amounted to a 1,000-year recurrence interval, which is based on the probability that a given event will happen again in any given year.

“We have to be a little bit careful about that,” Jones warned, adding that just a few miles away the amount of rainfall was unremarkable for a typical evening during the monsoon season.

For instance, just .36 inches was recorded near the Rail Runner Express train stop at Interstate 25 and the N.M. 599 bypass south of the city. But most rain gauges in city limits measured rainfall at more than 2 inches.

Eldorado, about 8 miles east of Santa Fe, received 1.89 inches of rain from the storm. Española, 25 miles to the north of the city, got less than an inch. Other northern New Mexico towns receiving a soaking were Raton. where 2.77 inches of rain fell, and Las Vegas, N.M., which received 2.45 inches.

Rain monitoring stations around Albuquerque registered .30 inches or less.

East side damage

On Santa Fe’s east side — many miles and upstream from where the flood hit La Cienega — Jodi Lang’s home on Lorenzo Road is built on a hill and avoided the high waters. But the storm washed out the road, exposing sewer and utility lines. It was like a “ferocious” river rushing by her driveway.

“I’d never seen the water so deep and moving so swiftly — and loud,” said Lang, who has lived there since 2007. “It was the hardest rain anyone in the neighborhood had ever seen.”

The basement at City Hall downtown was partially flooded. So was the pool deck at the Genoveva Chavez center, forcing the pool’s closure Tuesday.

The city kept the emergency shelter at the Genoveva Center open Tuesday in case anyone needed it. With Santa Fe under a new flash food watch Tuesday night and more rain predicted for later in the week, crews also were handing out sandbags at the fire station on Siler Road.

The city also is offering to pick up carpeting, flooring or other water-damaged material set curb side on Thursday.

Other than the pool, the rest of the Genoveva Chavez facility is open. La Farge Library is closed until further notice. The other city facilities that saw some damage remain open.


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