Flash floods wreak havoc in New Mexico

July 28, 2008 6:49:50 PM PDT
Rescuers used pulleys Monday to help stranded residents and campers cross a rushing river where the body of a man reported missing in flash flooding was found near a bridge in a thicket of debris. The victim, 20-year-old Joseph Godienes, was reported missing by his brother in this south-central New Mexico mountain resort area, said Ruidoso police Chief Wolfgang Born.

Godienes was one of two people reported swept away after apparently losing his footing near the Rio Ruidoso as it spilled over its banks Sunday in flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Dolly.

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.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) AP-NY-07-28-08 1919EDT


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