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‘It hurts so bad’: Heavy equipment arrives to impacted flood area in Chinle

‘It hurts so bad’: Heavy equipment arrives to impacted flood area in Chinle

CHINLE

On the morning of the third day since the flooding in Chinle has been declared an emergency, heavy equipment from across the Navajo Nation has arrived and already started making an impact.

A dozer and an excavator from the Navajo Engineering and Construction Authority are some of the first heavy vehicles to arrive at the scene. Work began at 9 a.m. Sunday, April 23.

In the past two days, Chinle Chapter volunteers have been working by hand with smaller tractors to build a berm near the mouth of Canyon de Chelly, trying to re-direct the water flow from affecting homes and back onto the water’s original path.

However, the water had broken through a barrier the night before. As the morning progressed, it slowly flooded the area and the local housing where volunteers had been working just the day before, undoing much of their work.

PHOTO GALLERY

Scenes from the flood.

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Berm construction

The arrival of the heavy equipment was precarious at first as operators carefully skirted around natural formations and barriers to reach the waterway. Still, once they did, they started making a berm.

Since their arrival, the chapter volunteers have returned to the chapter house to reassess where they can help further.

In nearly two hours, the heavy equipment almost completed the construction of a berm, with the excavator digging up the earth and the dozer pushing it into the waterway. Another pair, made up of a smaller bobcat dozer and excavator, worked a few yards away, constructing a second berm to reinforce the main one. It’s not cutting across the whole width of the waterway, but officials hope it will be enough to divert the flooding away from the Chinle community.

Garrett Silversmith, division director for the Navajo Division of Transportation, oversees the construction.

“This is a temporary solution, between now and until we find a solution for long term,” Silversmith said. “Discussions and design plans have to be ongoing for a permanent solution, so we hope this temporary solution will hold up.”

Silversmith said workers continue reinforcing part of the wash, the point of impact, using nearby material and sand from other locations.

Although the flooding is continuous and undid a lot of work from yesterday, he said the chapter officials and employees are progressing in assisting people, feeding, watering, and evacuating people, stressing the important part of the operation is saving lives.

He thanks everyone from tribal leadership, Apache County leadership, and local authorities for helping the community.

President Nygren declared a state of emergency on the Nation in January because of winter storms, which is still in effect today. This is helping Chinle access resources to help with the flooding as melted snow flows through the canyon mouth and into the community.

However, the newly constructed berms offer little comfort for the residents whose homes have been affected.

Water flows

Residents on Sunday watched the flooding and construction work from the hilltop where Trinity Presbyterian Church rests. One resident who goes by “Ariella” watched it with tears.

Navajo Times | David Smith
Residents watch from a nearby hill as volunteer workers battle to build fortifications to stop floodwaters coming out of Canyon de Chelly.

Although her home is on the other side of town and wasn’t affected, her nephew, Alex, is impacted. Afflicted by health issues, including being hard of hearing, the home Alex lived in close to the mouth of the canyon was important to him, and has been in their family for nearly two generations. He was one of the first to be evacuated and needed help from the Chinle Fire Department to get out.

They have been watching the flooding for days now. They had hope as the volunteers sandbagged the area in their first attempt to make a berm that things would improve, but the previous night’s flooding ruined that hope.

Now they watch as the floodwaters hammer away at the old building where damage is already visible. Even if the flooding was to end today, she knows the house would be heavily damaged and would cost too much to fix.

Her nephew is now living with her family, but Ariella is recovering from a COVID-19 infection, making living arrangements in the home difficult.

For nearly three days, they have been calling and going to the Chapter House for help but have had no answer. Now as word reaches the family that the chapter is open and helping, they prepare to leave in hopes they will find help.

“It hurts; it hurts so bad,” Ariella said. “It broke our heart.

“I’m hurt; he’s hurt too. Seeing our house like that it hurts,” she added. “I cannot sleep, I cannot eat, I’m just thinking about our house over there. I wished it didn’t happen.”


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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