AZTEC — As expected, Aztec City Commissioners on Tuesday approved sending the state a letter declaring the city a disaster area.
The request is a necessary first step to receive state funding to mitigate damage throughout the city.
Two storms on Sept. 10 and 12 inundated the city with water that toppled trees, turned streets into fast-moving rivers and caked much of the area in silt and mud.
City staff are still tabulating the damage, said Aztec's Finance Director Kathy Lamb. A running total of city utilities, culverts, bridges, waterways, streets and infrastructure is already more than half of a million dollars.
"I've been here 13 years and only once have I seen flooding even close to these two storms last month," said Ken George, director of the city's electric department and interim public works director. "These events keep us busy and trying to better tackle our flood management planning. The cost is unpopular when we're in a dry spell but critical when it pours down like it did."
The city's 28 retention ponds -- which are designed to capture and slow the rate of water gushing down the hills that arc around the eastern portion of the city -- were filled to the brim after the first storm in September, George said.
"They did their job," George said of the ponds. "But it was the next storm, right on the heels of the first, that made things worse."
The filled ponds were neutralized when the second storm sent more torrents of water careening down the hillsides, exacerbating an already dramatic flooding situation, George said.
After the first storm, city crews were out at the Blanco Arroyo to clear a section eight feet deep between Zia and Ford streets to spare the homes on either side.
But the second storm sealed a culvert at Zia Street with silt and debris, which the flash flood easily overtopped, causing water to rush through yards and garages and into homes.
Jason and Tammy Thompson's five-bedroom home on East Blanco Street was hit from two directions by water coursing along the overtopped Blanco Arroyo and torrent that shot down from the east.
"We became the arroyo," Tammy Thompson said of the flooding that smashed open French doors of the family's home, filling a bedroom, kitchen and living area with water. "'Mom, this is like being in a movie,' my daughter said during the second storm. Her room was destroyed. My kids have had nightmares."
At one point during the second storm, Tammy Thompson struggled to move a piano to keep the kitchen door closed and keep the water outside the kitchen. The door burst open from the weight of the flooding waters.
"As soon as I stabilized one door with the piano, the other kitchen door broke open and water came pouring in," she said.
Meanwhile, in the family's yard, Jason Thompson and his 15-year-old son stood knee-deep in swiftly moving waters, trying to cut a chain-link fence off of its posts to allow the quickly growing mass of branches, patio furniture, tackle boxes and other debris to tumble through to the southwest corner of the yard and into the Blanco Arroyo that abuts the yard.
When the water showed no signs of letting up, Jason Thompson waded out to the family's motor home and sought safer harbor for his wife and five kids for the weekend at an RV park on Ruins Road.
Today, murky green water lines splashed with mud remain along interior and exterior walls of the family's home, garage and an out building on the one-acre of property the family has owned for 14 years.
Thanks to help from members of their church, the only thing the Thompsons have left to remove is a more than foot-high pile of silt and mud across the street on property the family owns.
"You wouldn't ever know that we had landscaping and a lawn here," Tammy Thompson said. "I'm just glad we had flood insurance, even though they don't cover anything outside your dwelling."
Now the couple is busy wading though the headache of filing claims and trying to contract clean up help to tear out moldy sheetrock and replace floors.
"I'm not one to ever whine or cry, but holy moley." Tammy Thompson said.