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Heavy rain turns drought into the chaos of deluge

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — [photoshelter-gallery g_id=”G0000P0XaA.3Q8sA” g_name=”Record-Rain-Across-New-Mexico” f_show_caption=”t” f_show_slidenum=”t” img_title=”casc” pho_credit=”iptc” f_link=”t” f_enable_embed_btn=”t” f_send_to_friend_btn=”t” f_fullscreen=”t” f_bbar=”t” f_show_watermark=”t” f_htmllinks=”t” f_mtrx=”t” fsvis=”t” width=”620″ height=”465″ f_constrain=”t” bgcolor=”#000000″ btype=”old” bcolor=”#CCCCCC” crop=”t” twoup=”t” trans=”xfade” tbs=”3000″ f_ap=”t” bgtrans=”f” linkdest=”c” f_topbar=”f” f_bbarbig=”” f_smooth=”f” f_up=”f” target=”_self” ]

11:30 a.m.

Socorro County emergency crews evacuated 8 people overnight from the little village of San Francisco, south of Belen, as a result of steady high flows from the Rio Puerco. The flood has come in the form of gently rising water rather than rushing flows, according to Jerry Wheeler, the county’s emergency management coordinator. At least two houses have water inside, with 2-3 more surrounded by water and another 8 threatened, Wheeler said.

NM 60 east of I25 remains covered with water and closed, and likely will for another day or two, Wheeler said.

John Fleck

Monterrey Road in Rio Ranch remained washed out Monday. (Morgan Petroski/Journal)

Monterrey Road in Rio Ranch remained washed out Monday. (Morgan Petroski/Journal)

Officials closed US 60, a major east-west route in northern Socorro County, after flooding spread across the highway. (John Fleck/Journal)

Officials closed US 60, a major east-west route in northern Socorro County, after flooding spread across the highway. (John Fleck/Journal)

Floods, muds, sinkholes among issues across N.M.

The pain of drought continued to shift to the chaos of deluge Monday as a weekend of rain on top of last week’s monsoon blast caused more flooding throughout New Mexico.

In Grants, storm water overwhelmed sewage systems.

In Socorro County, Rio Grande flows not seen in decades damaged at least three levees, a handful of homes were flooded by slowly rising water at the junction of the Rio Puerco and the Rio Grande in tiny San Francisco, and a levee break flooded lowlands at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge.

In Madrid, a mixture of water, mud and coal flooded homes and businesses, including the historic Mineshaft Tavern.

And in Las Vegas, floodwaters remained high in some parts of the area despite successful repairs to the diversion channel that sends part of the river flow to nearby Storrie Lake.

Flooding also continued to cause widespread road problems across New Mexico, shutting down a main east-west route through Socorro County and reducing I-40 west of Albuquerque to one lane in each direction.

Cibola County

Runoff from western McKinley and Cibola counties has overwhelmed drainage systems in Grants and Milan, said Tony Mace, undersheriff for the Cibola County Sheriff’s Office.

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“The biggest problem right now is that the water is getting into the septic systems, the sewer systems … and it’s overwhelming the pumping houses for the septic systems,” Mace said. The overload has caused sewage to contaminate floodwaters but not drinking water, Mace said. “We’re telling people to stay out of the water,” he said.

Two Grants schools, Grants High School and Mesa View Elementary School, closed about noon on Monday. Volunteers and emergency personnel, along with inmates from the Cibola County Correctional Facility and several prison facilities, have filled up to 20,000 sandbags to help shore up creek and ditch banks, Mace said.

Trucks are transporting the filled sand bags to distribution points for anyone who needs them, he said. Citizens can pick up sandbags at several locations, including the Milan community center, the Milan and Grants fire stations and the Cibola County Sheriff’s Office.

“We’re reinforcing the ditch banks and keeping the water in the ditches to get it to flow through,” he said. Emergency personnel and large numbers of volunteers have come together to counter the crisis.

“Everybody is coming together to make this easier,” he said. Heavy rainfall around Bluewater Village over the weekend washed down through the Rio San José, causing the flooding in Milan and Grants, Mace said.

Heavy rainfall was reported Monday in parts of western Cibola County, which could exacerbate problems in Milan and Grants, he said.

Southwestern N.M.

In Grant County near Silver City, flooding was subsiding Monday on the Mimbres River, where search and rescue crews rescued several groups Thursday through Saturday, said Capt. Robert Gomez, a State Police spokesman in Deming.

The rescues were centered around the Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument north of Silver City, where hikers and rafters were stranded by the swiftly rising water of the Mimbres River. No injuries were reported. “Use caution if you are visiting the cliff dwelling areas because the river will rise on you pretty quickly,” Gomez said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Susana Martinez has approved an emergency airlift of food, water and other supplies to a tiny community in southwestern New Mexico that was cut off after flooding washed out the only paved road leading to it.

Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said Monday that supplies will be flown into the former mining town of Mogollon today.

The community became isolated after weekend flooding damaged state Route 159. Roughly 16 residents permanently live in the town nestled in the mountains in Catron County.

Madrid

Houses and businesses in Madrid – including the historic Mineshaft Tavern – got soaked by flooding and invaded by mud after a downpour hit the small town on N.M. 14 south of Santa Fe on Sunday afternoon.

Coal left over from old mining operations also ended up inside some structures, according to Martin Vigil, Santa Fe County’s emergency manager.

“We got most of it – I think we were flooded the worst,” said Tresa Campbell, wholesale manager at Jezebel Soda Fountain and Deli on Madrid’s main drag along N.M. 14. Vigil said about 10 business in Madrid were flooded.

The downpour hit as Sunday’s blues festival at the Mineshaft Tavern was breaking up and hundreds of people had to get out of town amid the heavy rain, Vigil added.

A bit farther north along N.M. 14 south of Santa Fe, along General Goodwin Road, two or three people were trapped in a truck Sunday night as the water rose to window level, according to Martin. They called 911 and a dispatcher stayed in contact as the group waited for the water to recede. They eventually got out of the truck, walked away and were sheltered for the night at a rancher’s house, according to Martin.

Santa Clara

Near Española, a thunderstorm that hit the Santa Clara Pueblo about 7 p.m. on Sunday forced the closure of the pueblo’s medical clinic. Sheriff Regis Chavarria said a berm failure near the clinic resulted in several inches of water and mud seeping into the building.

“The soils are so saturated there’s nowhere for the water to run,” he said.

Chavarria said numerous homes were also flooded, with some reports of water inside homes and adobe walls collapsing

Las Vegas, N.M.

In Las Vegas, N.M., where nearly 6 inches of rain has fallen in the last week, repair work on a breached canal that feeds Storrie Lake was completed late Monday afternoon.

“We’re taking in water to Storrie Lake now and will continue to reinforce the banks,” said Robert Quintana, president of the Storrie Project Water Users Association, which represents about 50 irrigators and owns the canal. “We’re not going to back off until we get a full flow.”

Quintana estimated the breach caused the association to lose between 4,000 and 5,000 acre feet of water that could have been diverted to the lake from the Gallinas River. The lake holds about 22,000 acre feet of water, he said.

But floodwaters from the river remained in parts of Las Vegas and numerous bridges have been washed out in surrounding San Miguel County, including in the village of Pecos.

Socorro County

In Socorro County, extreme flows from the Rio Puerco on top of already high flows in the Rio Grande pushed the river to sustained levels not seen since the 1970s. But the valley’s flood control system of levees seems largely to have held, according to Mike Hamman with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The risk from water flowing down the Rio Puerco and Rio Salado, two normally dry rivers with no flood control dams, makes Socorro County’s flood risk unique, said 65-year-old Edmund Olguin, a longtime resident watching the high flows from the Escondida Bridge north of Socorro. “That’s something Socorro has that nobody else has,” Olguin said of the Rio Puerco-Rio Salado risk.

Massive flows from the Rio Puerco on Sunday night and Monday morning had flood control managers on heightened alert as the river rose. County officials helped some residents of San Francisco, upstream from the Rio Puerco-Rio Grande confluence, evacuate during the early morning hours, said county emergency management coordinator Jerry Wheeler. The water arrived slowly, creeping up toward the houses, giving residents time to get out. “We’re not talking about a wall of water,” Wheeler said.

Flows on the Rio Puerco were so high that they washed out the U.S. Geological Survey’s two measurement gauges near Bernardo, forcing crews to come out and install a temporary gauge so flood managers could monitor the flow.

Roads affected

Interstate 40 will remain a one-lane bottleneck for traffic in both directions for several days while crews repair a rain-caused sinkhole in the freeway about 20 miles west of Albuquerque.

Some 28 roads around the state have been closed at one time or another over the past week, said Phil Gallegos, District 3 spokesman for New Mexico Department of Transportation.

Repairs to the I-40 sinkhole near To’hajiilee could affect freeway traffic until Sept. 27, depending on weather, a Transportation Department release said.

Gallegos and others familiar with the rain damage were unable to estimate the cost of storm-related damage.

“We probably won’t be able to do that until we catch our breath,” Gallegos said.

On Monday, the Transportation Department website nmroads.com showed closures on NM 174 north of Glenwood, NM 15 north of Silver City and NM 1 south of Magdalena, among others.

N.M. 313 just north of Roy Avenue reopened on Monday and U.S. 60 near Bernardo is expected to reopen today, Gallegos said .

Rain-borne sediment led to the closure of several streets, many of them dirt roads, in northern and western Rio Rancho, some indefinitely, according to the city.

In Corrales, contractors for Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority had to excavate sediment from the Harvey Jones Channel, which built up to within 3 feet of the bottom of the bridge over Corrales Road.

“That’s our biggest concern,” SSCAFCA Executive Engineer Chuck Thomas said.

And in northwest Albuquerque, a mud slide slid into some homes near the Petroglyphs National Monument and filled backyards with as much as four feet of muck, according to KOAT-TV.

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