One dead, residents displaced after storm

Hannah Grover

SHIPROCK — One person is dead and several families are homeless following a storm Friday that brought flooding to areas of San Juan County.

Crews from several agencies from around the county worked to assess the damage and clean up this morning. Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie, issued a declaration of emergency early this morning and set aside resources for response teams to assist the displaced residents.

An abandoned car sits in Salt Wash on Saturday in north Shiprock.

While the flooding has stopped, Eric Trevizo, the vice president of the Shiprock Authorized Local Emergency Response Team, said he is concerned potential rain over the weekend could lead to more damage.

“The ground’s real soaked, and we have a bunch of cars in (Salt Wash),” he said, explaining that the cars in the wash could cause the water to breach the banks again as it did Friday.

While the majority of the damage occurred near Salt Wash, also known as First Wash, in the Mesa Farm area northwest of Shiprock, arroyos in other parts of the county also were filled with water on Friday.

Former Bloomfield Police Department Sgt. Derek Mohler, 33, was killed after he attempted to cross Largo Wash south of Blanco Friday afternoon in his company-owned Ford F-150 truck, according to a press release from the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office. Officers say the water in the wash picked up the back end of the truck, causing it to roll several times.

Derek Mohler

While the initial call from the area of County Road 7007 was received at approximately 1:40 p.m., San Juan County fire crews and sheriff’s deputies were unable to reach the vehicle for about two hours due to the heavy rain and severe flooding, according to the press release. Mohler’s body was found at 4:09 p.m. a short distance from the vehicle. Mohler worked for the Bloomfield Police Department for nine years prior to pursuing a career in the oil and natural gas industry. He worked for Crossfire LLC, which is based out of Durango, Colo.

The storm also destroyed about 10 homes in an agricultural neighborhood northwest of Shiprock. Neighborhood residents have reported losing an unknown number of sheep, cattle, horses and chickens, as well as dogs. Mesa Farm Road residents fled their houses Friday night, and five families took shelter at the Shiprock Chapter House.

Eric Trevizo, right, of Shiprock ALERT and other officials discuss their plans before heading to the Salt Wash area to assess flood damage on Saturday at the Shiprock Chapter house.

Firefighter Derrick Woody lives in the area and was the first responder on scene. He said he was scared and worried about his grandmother, who lives in a house near the wash.

Woody’s grandmother, Alice Shorty, was inside the house with her daughter when the flood waters hit. Her niece, who lives next door, alerted her to the flood by yelling a warning.

When Shorty got to her door, the water was already blocking her escape.

“Where could we go? Nowhere,” she said as she stood next to her house this morning.

At one point, Shorty and her daughter fell and couldn’t get up because the current inside the house was so strong.

They were able to get into the kitchen and sit beside the stove with flood water splashing in their faces. Although they were yelling for help, the rescuers couldn’t hear them.

“We saw the table come by us,” Shorty said. “It just floated away.”

Eventually, Woody got inside the house. When he found his grandmother, she was scared, cold and shaking. Woody said both women were showing signs of hypothermia and were taken to the hospital for treatment.

Eric Shorty, Woody’s cousin and Alice Shorty’s grandson, had been outside with his brother smoking a cigarette when the flood waters reached the neighborhood. The first warning sign was the smell, he recalled while sitting in the Shiprock Chapter House thisafternoon.

Family members and friends gather at the site of one of the damaged homes on Saturday in the Salt Wash area of north Shiprock.

“You could smell that mud in the water,” he said.

When he realized what was happening, Eric Shorty unchained his dogs and ran to his house to get his family to safety. As the flood waters threatened to sweep his children away and the storm knocked the glasses off of his face, Eric Shorty yanked his daughters out of the water and put them into the back of a truck he had chained to a nearby telephone pole.

During the storm, a resident went to check on a man in a wheelchair who she knew lived alone. When Trevizo was assessing the damage today, the neighbor told him her family lifted the man and his wheelchair onto a table in his kitchen. Rescuers later found the man on the table and took him to the hospital, Trevizo said. Watermarks on the wall of the house indicated that there had been about two feet of water inside the residence Friday night.

Yazzie said the Salt Wash has had problems with flooding in the past, but Friday’s flood was the worst anyone could recall. He said the wash’s channel has become narrow, and there are a lot of overgrown, invasive trees such as salt cedar and Russian olive in it. He said the chapter will need funding to address the problems with the Salt Wash, such as maintaining the channels and repairing water catchment dams.

Residents echoed Yazzie’s concerns about the wash.

Pedro and Veronica Benally rest at the Shiprock Chapter house on Saturday after Salt Wash flooded and damaged their home in north Shiprock on Friday.

“It floods here all the time, and this time we lost everything,” Woody said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.