Staff and wire reports
Clovis native Bruce DeFoor, who retired and moved to Moon Mountain in Ruidoso two years ago, said flooding in Ruidoso was a shocking surprise after steady but gentle weekend rains.
“It had rained Saturday, on and off most of the day, but it was just a real light rain,” DeFoor said.
“We just thought it lasted a long time but it was never really hard. We had heard that hurricane Dolly was not going to cause devastation on the coast. You don’t think about a hurricane affecting Ruidoso.”
DeFoor said he and his wife woke Sunday to news that the river below them was flooding.
Thankfully, the former Clovis Community College art instructor said he and his wife did not experience any problems at their home and have been able to travel into town for supplies.
Military helicopters were evacuating flood survivors Monday morning from residences in the upper canyon area. Their flight path crossed overhead of DeFoor’s property, he said.
“I watched one (elderly) lady and her cat be rescued,” he said.
DeFoor said the impact of the flooding was more poignant because the village was crowded with tourists attending horse races and an art festival.
The body of a 20-year-old apparently swept away by flooding caused by the aftermath of Hurricane Dolly was found Monday in a thicket of debris near a washed-out bridge.
The victim, identified as Joseph Godines, had been reported missing in this mountainous resort area by his brother, said Police Chief Wolfgang Born. He was one of two people reported swept away after apparently losing his footing near the Rio Ruidoso as it spilled over its banks Sunday.
Darlene Hart, a spokeswoman for the state of New Mexico, said Monday there were “four or five” unconfirmed reports of missing people, but authorities have no definitive information on any of them.
Up to 9 inches of rain has fallen in the mountainous resort area since Friday, the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said.
Portales retiree Richard Hood has owned a home in Alto for nearly eight years. He traveled to Alto on Monday to check on his property.
“Downtown roads are all clear,” Hood said. “But Eagle (Street) was closed and you can see where the river really did get high.”
Hood said his main concern was runoff water near his home.
“We have some runoff on the side of the hill, and we’re going to have to make sure that everything is all right.”
Eastern New Mexico University Board of Regents president Alva Carter also owns a home in Alto a few miles above the swollen Rio Ruidoso.
“One of the reasons it’s flooding,” a friend from the area told Carter, “is because of debris (tree leaves, stumps and branches) getting into the culverts.”
An estimated 350 to 500 houses, campers, mobile homes and structures were damaged in the flooding, with about 350 people evacuated from homes and up to 500 vacationers stranded away from their cabins, campsites or recreational vehicles.
They were unable to return Monday because of washed out roads and bridges. Some residents were stuck after refusing to evacuate.
Tom Schafer, Ruidoso’s emergency management coordinator, said there were 25 water rescues Sunday, mostly from vehicles but a few homes as well.
Authorities said 170 people were rescued Monday from the upper canyon and surrounding campgrounds. Rescuers used a pulley system fitted with a basket to slide people across the river using a ladder.
Authorities said at least 200 people remain stranded in the upper canyon areas, some of whom have indicated they don’t want to leave.
Gov. Bill Richardson declared Lincoln County a disaster area, freeing up emergency state money.
Jorge Salazar, an El Paso, Texas, accountant, was rescued after being stranded near a campsite for more than a day. Park rangers rousted campers from their sites about 4 a.m. Sunday and evacuated them to higher ground, he said as he watched for other relatives crossing the still murky river.
“By the time we got down (to the road) it was just gone,” Salazar said of the campsite.
He said his family, including his 2-year-old son and 4-year-old niece, spent Sunday night sharing a cabin with a Dallas couple who had extra space.
In town, at least two houses went down in the swift-flowing river as it spilled out of its banks. An unknown number of cars were also swept away.
Nine bridges were under water and secondary roads in the area remained closed Monday, although the main highway, U.S. 70, reopened after part of it had been shut down Sunday.
Up to 9 inches of rain has fallen in the area since Friday, the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said. Flash flood watches were in effect across much of eastern New Mexico.
The sun broke through Monday morning, but isolated thunderstorms were forecast throughout the week.
Freedom New Mexico reporters Sharna Johnson and Mickey Winfield and the Associated Press contributed to this report.