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Chinle sees worst flood in history

Chinle sees worst flood in history

Some residents facing the onslaught of flooding


Floodwater is damaging residential homes.

Melting snow is coming from the mountains, adding to the rapid waters flowing from Canyon de Chelly and enveloping part of the Chinle community.

The flooding has been continuous, undoing what progress Chinle Chapter workers and volunteers have accomplished since Saturday night.

Heavy equipment provided by the Navajo Engineering and Construction Authority have started to make headway in building a temporary berm near the mouth of the canyon. More heavy machinery arrived yesterday, April 23, and are being used to reinforce the berms to prevent them from being washed away.

Staff from the Department of Health, the Division of Social Service, and the president’s office pitched in to help. Police officers from the Window Rock, Tuba City, and Kayenta districts are helping with patrols.

Apache and Navajo counties and the American Red Cross are providing further aid. Officials also contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency and are in contact with the Arizona governor’s office and the Arizona State Division of Emergency Management.

Thousands of sandbags have already been distributed. The chapter house initially handed out only 25 sandbags per family but had begun handing out as much as the families needed by Sunday afternoon. With heavy machinery now working near the mouth of the canyon, other workers and volunteers are working further down the wash, particularly in the Chinle community known as “Jurassic Park,” where roads have been flooded, and people have started using kayaks to ferry supplies and sandbags. Workers will also help deliver food and water and help evacuate people, though many residents choose to stay despite the danger of flooding.

Navajo Times | Holly James
An older man sits in front of his childhood home as water seeps into his home in Chinle on Saturday.

There have been no reports of fatalities so far. Still, a few medical evacuations were made, including Saturday night when a few chapter workers fell into the water and were monitored for hyperthermia.

Chinle Delegate Shawna Claw stayed late in Chinle Sunday even though she had to be in Phoenix for a water rights case.

Claw thanks the community for showing strength, resilience, and fortitude during the disaster. She said her thoughts go out to all the affected families, and she is happy to see people helping one another in the crisis and assures that good leadership is working to resolve the matter. She asks that people offer up prayers and continue to help one another during this time.

“It’s very difficult, but I’m very thankful for all of the leadership here today,” Claw said. “They’ve just put their thoughts together and come up with some innovative strategies, and we’re going to continue the work the rest of the week.”

Vice President Richelle Montoya arrived Sunday afternoon to survey the disaster. She found it incredible how clear the sky was and how dry the ground looked as she drove into Chinle. Yet when she reached the mouth of Canyon de Chelly and saw the rushing waves of floodwater, she said it was almost unbelievable.

Severe flooding of years’ past

She describes the situation as dire as she walked alongside the wash, speaking to emergency workers, volunteers, and residents affected by the flooding and asking for aid. She also heard from families stranded by the flooding, asking for food and water as their utilities had been shut off because of the emergency. From what she had been told, this was the worst flooding Chinle had seen in years.

Navajo Times | Holly James
A Chinle resident walks through the flooded neighborhood assessing the damage around the homes on Saturday.

Montoya assures that the president’s office would deliver packaged food for people and food for livestock.

She assures that the workers are progressing as people from different agencies work together to control the flooding, evacuate residents, and care for them.

She encourages people to continue making donations to the Chinle area, asking for food and clothes, but not to personally deliver the supplies to people in the flooded zones. Those who want to donate should take the donations to the chapter house.

“Please continue to pray for this area, our Chinle residents, our Chinle relatives,” Montoya said. “They are in need of positive thoughts, and if you yourself have any way to donate towards the food that these individuals are needing, it’s more than welcomed.”

Things may become more challenging today, April 24, as the work week begins, with more traffic and fewer volunteers being able to help, but the workers are prepared for it.

Emergency Management Director Harland Cleveland urges that if people see they’re in danger of being flooded, they should evacuate to the Chinle Chapter House, where they can find shelter. In contrast, the Navajo Housing Authority finds a temporary place for them to stay.

Those who need to evacuate should do so during daytime hours as it’ll be more dangerous to navigate floodwaters in the dark, endangering themselves and anyone trying to help.

Claw and Cleveland thank all the outside entities, such as the state and the country, for helping and supporting them as the crisis continues.

There is no clear end in sight of the flooding, but officials are hoping to see some sign of the future when Friday comes, but for now, the floodwater continues to roar through the canyon and into Chinle. Officials are focusing on continuing to help the people, divert the flood, and concentrate their main goal on saving human lives.

“Like I’ve told the staff,” Cleveland said, “This is not a sprint. Now, we’re into the marathon portion of it.”

About The Author

David Smith

David Smith is Tódích’íi’nii and born for Dziłt’aadí. He is from Chinle and studied at Northern Arizona University. He studied journalism and English for five years while working part-time for NAU’s NAZ Today and the Lumberjack newspaper. After graduating in 2020, he joined the Navajo Times as a sportswriter for two years before leaving in September 2022. Smith returned in February 2023.


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