July 28, 2008

Floods Batter Ruidoso: 2 Missing, Presumed Dead

By Michael D. Hernandez, El Paso Times, Texas

Jul. 28--RUIDOSO -- The rainstorms from Hurricane Dolly that drenched El Paso on Saturday took a heavier toll Sunday on Ruidoso, where two people are missing and are presumed drowned in widespread flooding that destroyed several homes and businesses in the mountain resort community.

"I have lived here 40 years and this is the worst I have ever seen," Ruidoso Mayor L. Ray Nunley said about the sustained downpour that dropped 3-6 inches of rain on the village and caused the Rio Ruidoso to swell beyond its banks late Saturday night.

Emergency officials Sunday afternoon were busy trying to rescue a trapped girl in the river and some residents living in the Upper Canyon of the village had to be evacuated from their homes by helicopter as at least six bridges were damaged or destroyed in the flooding that drew emergency help from agencies throughout the state.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was expected to arrive in the village 120 miles north of El Paso to offer assistance, but Ruidoso officials said it was too early to assess all of the damage from the storms.

Damage wa s visible throughout Ruidoso, as some houses had been washed away and mobile homes along the banks of the Rio Ruidoso were flooded and destroyed. A number of prominent businesses were affected, including the building that housed the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"It's an extremely hazardous situation, and it's going to get worse,' Ruidoso Village Fire Chief Tom Gavin said.

"We've got a serious situation on hand, with numerous bridges already washed out and a number of homes already destroyed."

An emergency shelter for people who were flooded out of their homes was set up in a Ruidoso church and village officials cautioned residents to keep away from the river and to seek higher ground if rains persisted.

More rain for the area was expected Monday and officials from the National Weather Service in Santa Teresa said the remnants of Hurricane Dolly could continue to pose a problem for Ruidoso.

"They have had multiple days in a row of rain and that has saturated the ground," meteorologist Tom Bird said. "Every bit of new rain they get is just adding to their problems."

The Weather Service also issued a flood warning for the Rio Grande in El Paso through Monday morning as rainfall in the area from the past several days was expected to cause the river to overflow its banks at some points but stay well within its levee system.

A 40 percent chance of thunderstorms is predicted for Monday in El Paso with the chance of rain diminishing as the week progresses.

No major accidents or incidents related to the storms were reported Sunday in El Paso as city residents took time to clean up after Saturday's record rainfall that flooded streets and caused traffic hazards.

Fog and falling rocks kept Trans Mountain Road closed through Monday morning and Rojas Drive, between George Dieter Drive and Zaragoza Road, was opened Sunday evening.

City crews scrambled to pump water from flooded city streets such as Montmartre Drive, where Daniel Hernandez eyed the dark, murky pond that had grown to within 5 feet of his front door late Saturday.

"My son has a truck and he had to help pull four cars out last night," he said about the flooded street in front of his Lower Valley home. "They need to make the canals deeper so this doesn't happen anymore."

In Ruidoso, Nunley said emergency officials were holding out hope that the two missing people had survived the flooding.

The damage to Ruidoso came during a high period of activity for the village that leans heavily on tourism dollars.

"Ruidoso is still open and raring to go," Nunley said. "We don't want this to hold anybody back from coming up here."

Michael D. Hernandez may be reached at [email protected]; 546-6151.

Terry Fitzwater may be reached at [email protected];505-257-4001.

Texas airport reopens --Valley International Airport in Harlingen, Texas, has reopened four days after Hurricane Dolly shut it down.

--A normal flight schedule resumed midmorning Sunday after power was restored at the airport. The Rio Grande Valley's main airport closed Wednesday as Dolly roared across the South Texas coast.

--Phone lines still aren't working, but officials are providing updates through the Web site www.flythevalley.com.

--Valley International serves more than 800,000 passengers a year. It is home to Southwest Airlines, Continental Express, Sun Country Airlines and several cargo airlines.


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