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Flood weary New Mexico keeps eyes on rivers

September 16, 2013
Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexicans remained on high alert Monday to possible flash flooding as rain was expected to continue during the next few days, adding more runoff to already swollen rivers and streams.

The tiny community of Mogollon in southwestern New Mexico was isolated after weekend rains destroyed the paved road leading to it. About 16 residents live permanently in the former mining town nestled in the mountains.

"The water washed away the road and pretty much made it a creek bed," said Joe Tafoya, a state Department of Transportation supervisor in nearby Cliff.

Authorities were trying to get a bulldozer "to get a road at least scraped off to see if people want to come out," he said.

Gov. Susana Martinez traveled to several communities to inspect damage from the flooding since last week when heavy rains inundated what had been a drought-parched state.

In eastern New Mexico, Martinez was to stop in Santa Rosa, a community with a population of 2,800. Local officials are seeking a disaster declaration because flooding washed out roads and buckled pavement last week.

"It felt like the storm of the century for the second time this year," interim City Administrator Raymond Mondragon said.

Heavy hail pounded the city earlier in the summer, damaging roofs that are now leaking, he said.

Officials warned of the potential of flooding because even moderate rainfall can push swollen rivers out of their banks and normally dry washes quickly fill with fast-moving water.

But parts of the state should get a breather as rains Tuesday were expected mostly in the north-central mountains and eastern portions of the state, said Christopher Luckett, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.

"Comparing this week with last week, we're definitely going to be quieting down," Luckett said.

In the west-central community of Grants, two schools were closed early as a precaution in case roads in low-lying areas become water-covered, Grants Police Lt. John Castaneda said. Many students travel to and from school by bus.

Runoff is high from rains that have pounded the area since Friday.

"The water is getting into the sewers now. We're having a lot of backup from that," Castaneda said.

In southwestern New Mexico, the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument remained closed. Heavy rains raised the Gila River by 15 feet Sunday, prompting the closure of a road to the monument.

The monument's acting superintendent, Rodney Sauter, said the river near the monument had dropped but power to the visitor center was knocked out after a tree fell across an electrical distribution line. He said trees and other debris littered the river bank.

"We're still dealing with a flash flood watch. It's better now but we've had multiple surges since last week," Sauter said.

However, he said the 700-year-old cliff dwellings aren't threatened because they're about 180 feet above the flood plain

Some areas have received close to 10 inches of rain since last Tuesday. More than 4 inches fell in parts of Albuquerque, marking the wettest September on record for the state's most populous city.

So far, one person has died in the flooding. The body of a 53-year-old man was found over the weekend in southern New Mexico's Sierra County. Authorities say Steven Elsley of Phoenix died after his car was washed into a ravine and carried away.

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Follow Barry Massey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bmasseyAP

 
 

 

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