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Governor declares flood emergency in county

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Standing water could be seen Wednesday on Lewis Road near the Roswell Air Center, more than a week after storms ended. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has declared a state of emergency in Chaves County related to late May storms and the resulting floods, which will make up to $750,000 available and will allow other state entities to assist the county if needed.

“As you are aware, the flooding which has occurred in Chaves County has created a hardship for many families,” said County Manager Bill Williams, who thanked the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, as well as federal and local officials, for their help in obtaining the emergency declaration. “In addition to initiating repairs to the damaged infrastructure, this emergency declaration will quickly open avenues for relief for those affected by this flood.”

The emergency declaration signed by Lujan Grisham Wednesday had been submitted about a week ago by the county, according to Will Cavin, chairman of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners. It comes as a result of the heavy rainfalls, hail and wind that began May 28 and continued through May 31, with flooding in South Roswell near the Roswell Air Center as a result of an overspill at an area dam and the breach of a flood-control berm.

Residents and businesses between South Main Street and South Sunset Avenue have experienced flooded homes and properties, flooded and contaminated septic systems and water wells, dead livestock and other hardships. Some residents whose homes were severely damaged have received emergency financial assistance from the American Red Cross of New Mexico, but the emergency declaration will make more funding available.

“The funds shall be expended for the resources and services necessary to avoid or minimize economic or physical harm until the situation becomes stabilized; on a temporary, emergency basis for lodging, sheltering, health care, food, any transportation or shipping necessary to protect lives or public property; or for any other action necessary to protect public health, safety, welfare and property,” the declaration states.

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The executive order also indicated that the New Mexico National Guard could assist the county if necessary, and that any other state department or agency under the authority of the governor will help if requested to do so by the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Williams said that the county is still assessing the extent of damages.

“We are still evaluating, gathering information and evaluating, what needs to be repaired and all,” he said. “There have been crews from the state down looking things over.”

While work to fix the berm breaches cannot begin at this time, Williams said, the Chaves County Flood Commission, managed by Superintendent Dick Smith, is able to do some work in that general area, which is about 1.25 miles west of Roswell.

“He actually was ditching some ditches to help reroute water and keep it away from people,” Williams said. “I also have news that the Rocky Dam, they project it to be below the spillway by noon today (Wednesday), so there will be no additional water flowing out of the Rocky.”

The Rocky Dam is the southern dam in the Twin Rivers Dam project about 14 miles west of Roswell that is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which Williams said is the group that informed him about the current Rocky Dam waterflow projections.

The northern dam, the Diamond A Dam, had a gate that was shut a few days after the storm ended. Rocky Dam is ungated and its overflow went into the Rocky Arroyo, with water eventually ending up in the berm area. The dam overflow as well as the heavy rainfall of 4.75 inches to 5.25 inches in a 24-hour period — amounts that make the event a “100-year storm” — led to the flooding in Roswell.

The berm repairs are expected to begin as soon as water levels are low enough to allow work on the berm itself, Smith said in a prior interview. He also said that reworking of the entire berm area will occur after the “quick patch repair” to the berm to stop water from heading toward Roswell.

Williams also said that the governor’s emergency order “is the catalyst which will ultimately bring assistance to those who need it the most.”

He explained that the Red Cross and other groups have been helping residents and business, but that he expects their efforts to “ramp up” now that the disaster declaration has been made official.

Roswell city councilors are due to vote during their Thursday night meeting on whether to submit a similar emergency declaration to the state.

Todd Wildermuth, public information officer for the city of Roswell, said that the decision whether to request a federal emergency declaration for damages experienced in Chaves and surrounding counties must be made by state officials.

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.