Storm causes damage throughout San Juan County

Hannah Grover The Daily Times
The Daily Times

AZTEC — Almost two years after floods caused thousands of dollars of damage to several properties here, a similar storm once again spewed mud and debris across roads.

The heavy rains prompted the New Mexico Environment Department to urge well users to be careful with their water because contaminants could have tainted the water.

The environment department urges residents with wells inundated with flood water to boil their water for five minutes before using it and to disinfect it prior to use.

In addition to potentially contaminating wells, the floods caused damage to local roads when arroyos, such as the Blanco Arroyo, overflowed their ditches. Blanco Street here, which runs along the high school, was covered in mud after the Blanco Arroyo overflowed its banks.

"Then it just brought all its silt and sand and water washing down Blanco," City Engineer William Watson said as he walked down the street near the high school Thursday morning.

The Blanco Arroyo is one of the arroyos that caused damage during the 2013 floods, and the city has been working to secure funding for an engineering study on the arroyo.

Watson said he anticipates the study will start this year.

"That is the first step in making the solution happen," he said.

The Blanco Arroyo runs down Blanco Street before crossing Main Avenue and through the Aztec Museum and Pioneer Village property.

The water in the arroyo destroyed a retention wall at the museum, which had been rebuilt following the 2013 floods that caused damage to the museum property. Following the 2013 floods, the city, county and museum spent more than $40,000 to repair and clean up the property. Part of the cleanup process was replacing wood chip paths with sidewalks.

"It didn't do quite as much damage (this year) because we invested $9,000 in the sidewalks," said Jimmy Miller, the president of the Aztec Museum Association.

Some of the buildings in the Pioneer Village were damaged by water and debris.

"We're debating wether or not to go ahead with Founders Day," Miller said.

The annual celebration usually takes place at the museum and is scheduled for Sept. 19. When floods in early September 2013 damaged museum grounds, the celebration was moved to Minium Park.

The floods were not only isolated to Aztec. Crouch Mesa and Flora Vista also experienced washed-out roads and power outages. A rock slide on Navajo Route 36 closed the road near mile marker 28.

Michele Truby-Tillen, a spokeswoman for the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management, said several people in the county were displaced due to flood damage to their houses. Some of those people had trees fall on their houses, and at least two residences in the area of County Road 5572 slid off their foundation. Firefighters also rescued some people from their roofs.

The National Weather Service released a hazardous weather warning shortly before 5:30 a.m. Thursday. The NWS advised that Wednesday night's storm was not the last heavy rain the area will see in the next few days.

The warning states that storms will continue through the weekend and into next week. That could mean additional flooding, as well as high winds.

Schools in Aztec were closed Thursday as the district attempted to assess the damage to three buildings, including Aztec High School, where a pool of water about 3 feet deep had filled a parking lot and several classrooms were flooded.

In addition to the high school, Koogler Middle School and Lydia Rippey Elementary School were also damaged.

Superintendent Kirk Carpenter said Lydia Rippey Elementary School was the hardest hit of the schools. Between 10 and 12 classrooms were flooded, and six of the classrooms were under about an inch of water.

A group of staff and community volunteers gathered at the school to clean it up Thursday morning.

"We've had teachers, kids, community members," Principal Dana Stanley said. "Everyone just jumped into get it done."

Because of flooding damage, Lydia Rippey Elementary will also be closed Friday, according to a post on the district's Facebook page. All other schools in the district are expected to operate on their regular schedules on Friday.

Stanley said the school is still assessing damages and has moved everything out of classrooms into the cafeteria in preparation for more storms this weekend.

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