Neglected rural communities unprepared for disaster - Albuquerque Journal

Neglected rural communities unprepared for disaster

The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire is a looking glass into the lack of preparedness for disasters in rural New Mexico.

This disaster opens the curtains on decades of neglect in our aging communities. Those seeking elected office know they need the north to win and never miss a fiesta parade, only to forget about us the morning after the votes are tallied. Now that the largest fire in the United States has landed at our feet, we are forced to navigate this disaster alone with no preparation. The state’s response has been painfully slow, disorganized and largely inadequate. The fire started on April 16. The first incident commander arrived in Mora 12 days after the presidential executive order was entered and a full month after the fire started.

In good times, Mora has poor mobile service, limited broadband access and stretched human resources. Now the electrical service is compromised and there is no drinking water. In an age of abundant satellite technology, local leaders needed communication at ground zero at the start of the disaster, not four weeks into the tragedy – a need that was too slow to be realized.

Mora has an emergency medical service that operates out of two hotel rooms and pays minimum wage. Qualified and educated first responders stay and do the work because it’s home. There has been chronic underfunding for decades, and the fragile system is now hanging by a thread. Today, these same responders have gone weeks in that hotel with no running water and no electricity, at times sleeping in their units because if they didn’t stay behind, others could die.

Across the valley, the volunteer firefighters, our homegrown heroes, have been operating under the same conditions because generators were tied up in state bureaucracy in Las Vegas, New Mexico. These firefighters continue on with overused equipment and limited uniforms. These heroes have been the life blood of Mora, feeding the elderly and keeping pets alive. They do it without complaint because it’s home and if they don’t save it, no one will.

The locals at the food distribution center have been chastised for not evacuating, when evacuation resources were scarce. Their eyes are red from smoke, and despair is apparent. The Santa Fe bureaucrats wanted them out, so supply lines were repeatedly stalled behind roadblocks. If they had left, the vulnerable would suffer. Their efforts have succeeded by pure perseverance. There was no plan in place to help those that could not leave.

The fires have charred our land, and the lack of resources may break our spirit. Mora residents are starting to return to rancid refrigerators from weeks without electricity. As always in the north, we are left to our scrappy ways to find solutions. The solid waste department was underfunded prior to the disaster. Now, mountains of waste will compound. Until now, none of this could be reported because reporters were also stalled behind road blocks.

In a time of disaster, we do not have time for bureaucracy. We do not have time for the correct politician to get credit before providing a resource. Local leaders cannot keep up with the extreme need, exhausted themselves. It’s time for the chronic underfunding of rural communities to end. Rural communities are not capable of handling the logistical burden of a disaster without immediate help. If this calamity ever falls on another New Mexico community, disaster commanders are needed on the first day of the crisis.

Rural residents deserve a proper disaster response and shouldn’t have to beg at the state’s feet to get it. People needed help weeks ago; we are now desperate for it.

Antonia Roybal-Mack was born and raised in Mora. Her parents and siblings have been directly impacted by the blaze. She now practices law in Albuquerque.

Home » Opinion » Guest Columns » Neglected rural communities unprepared for disaster


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
Three NM campsites named 'Best Places to Camp' by ...
Arts
Sierra Vista, a dispersed camping site ... Sierra Vista, a dispersed camping site near Las Cruces within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument; the currently closed Rio Chama Campground near the ...
2
New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum unveils new ...
Arts
The Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, ... The Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, located at 4100 Dripping Springs Road in Las Cruces, has a collection around 400 pieces which continues to ...
3
Santa Fe Opera bringing Rossini's comedy classic to the ...
Arts
The Santa Fe Opera will stage ... The Santa Fe Opera will stage 'The Barber of Seville' beginning on Saturday, July 2.
4
Former SFO apprentice returns to make her principal debut ...
Arts
Sylvia D'Eramo will sing the role ... Sylvia D'Eramo will sing the role of Micaëla in Georges Bizet's classic tale of the ultimate femme fatale.
5
Georgia on their mind
Arts
O’Keeffe Museum celebrating 25 years of ... O’Keeffe Museum celebrating 25 years of showcasing the renowned artist
6
Now is the time to repot those houseplants
Arts
Bluegrass care is different than caring ... Bluegrass care is different than caring for a Bermuda lawn.
7
'The Mexican Chile Pepper Cookbook' offers recipes featuring this ...
Arts
Learn about the 64 varieties of ... Learn about the 64 varieties of chiles from around Mexico.
8
'The Lies I Tell' is a hard-to-put-down thriller
Arts
For the reader, the book's revelations ... For the reader, the book's revelations lead to questions about the possible gray area of doing what's 'wrong' in order to make things right.
9
Five productions, including the world premiere of 'M. Butterfly,' ...
Arts
'Carmen' opens the season on July ... 'Carmen' opens the season on July 1 in a new production starring three-time Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard.