Monsoon lashes Nation

By Cindy Yurth and Bill Donovan
Navajo Times

CHINLE, Sept. 13, 2013

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(Times photos – Cindy Yurth)

TOP: Businessmen along U.S. 191 in Chinle used shovels and machinery to divert floodwaters away from their businesses Tuesday. The parking lot of Basha’s looked like a lake and emergency crews pumped water away from a gas station at the south end of town, closing one lane of the highway.

BOTTOM: This Chinle family made the most of Tuesday’s flooding. “If you can’t beat it, might as well enjoy it,” said the man.

Federal, state and tribal authorities met via conference calls Tuesday to share information and coordinate responses to the widespread flooding that hit the Navajo Nation this week.

Twenty-two people in Chinle and several more in Many Farms, Ariz., were evacuated from their homes along the swelling de Chelly, Chinle and Nazlini washes Tuesday, according to the Red Cross and local emergency personnel.

The Chinle Chapter was set up as an emergency shelter and 11 people stayed there Tuesday night, according to Red Cross spokesman Brian Gomez.

Schools in the Chinle Unified School District were closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Business owners along U.S. 191 worked frantically with shovels and heavy equipment to channel rising water away from their establishments as emergency personnel pumped water that was surrounding a gas station across 191 into a culvert, closing one lane of the highway.

"We're still assessing the road damage," said President Ben Shelly's spokesman Erny Zah Tuesday afternoon. "We're getting reports of washouts all over the Nation."

As Zah was driving north on N12 and talking to this reporter on his cell phone, he had to slow down to avoid a grader that was clearing mud from the road near Red Lake, Ariz., he said.

Zah said there were reports of washouts in Tonalea, Bird Springs, Coal Mine Canyon, and the Navajo and Hopi Partitioned Land in Arizona, and water flowing across the N36 near Northern Edge Casino in New Mexico. Several roads in southern Utah were closed and San Juan County, N.M., issued an advisory asking motorists to stay off the roads unless they absolutely had to drive.

"It just seems to be all over," Zah said. "I was just on the phone with Navajo County, Apache County, Coconino County, the tribal liaison for FEMA, the BIA, health care entities, even Hopi called in. We're trying to figure out who is the responsible agent for (each of the) the roads that got flooded. Everyone is working together to respond to this."

Zah said the priority for evacuation is diabetes patients on dialysis, and urged people to check on family members in that situation.

"Let the emergency people know so they can figure out a way to get the patient to dialysis or dialysis to them," he said.

The National Weather Service's Flagstaff office was predicting a reprieve this morning, with rain tapering off through the week. Flash flood warnings had shifted north and west of the reservation.

"We can't rule out a shower in the next few days," said forecaster Justin Johndrow, "but it should be really winding down over the next week."

Johndrow said the wet weather over the last month or so is due to "a series of sub-tropical systems" that have moved farther north than usual.

"The flow is just favorable for moving that moisture upward," he explained.

According to the service, 15.1 inches of rain fell in Flagstaff this monsoon season, making it the wettest since the record year of 1986, when more than 20 inches pummeled the northern Arizona city.

All the service's stations on the reservation have logged much better than average monsoons, with Betatakin's 7.53 inches putting it in its top three wettest monsoons "for all time, or at least since we started keeping records in 1939," Johndrow said.

Wupatki, just west of the Navajo Nation toward Flagstaff, had a record wet summer, with more than 11 inches of moisture Ñ 7.82 inches more than normal.

Window Rock, at 6.69 inches, and Canyon de Chelly, with 4.17, were each more than an inch above normal.

"As localized as these showers are, it's really hard to make generalizations," Johndrow said. "If the station were a half-mile in any direction, it might show a whole different reading."

Contact Cindy Yurth and Bill Donovan at

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