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Much-needed moisture creates hardship for rural areas across Nation

Much-needed moisture creates hardship for rural areas across Nation


More than 72 hours ago, the Hard Rock, Forest Lake, Piñon, Black Mesa, and Whippoorwill representatives said waiting 48 hours to get emergency management was too long.

Newly elected Councilwoman Germaine Simonson on Monday night seemed flustered as she was leaving the Navajo Nation Council Chamber in Window Rock.

“We gotta get help out there,” she said. “Emergency has been since Tuesday (Jan. 17); people have been trying to get out since Tuesday. So, now it’s what now? That’s almost a whole week. So almost a whole week. Plus, they want us to wait another forty-eight hours, which is a whole another two days.”

Her colleague Andy Nez, who represents Crystal, Fort Defiance, Red Lake, and Sawmill chapters, has been receiving updates on the operation the Apache County District 2 and its Emergency Management team have been conducting since Jan. 19 in the Sawmill and Whiteclay areas.

Another of their colleague Vince James, who reps Jeddito, Cornfields, Ganado, Kinłichíí, and Steamboat, has also been trying to get help for his chapters.

Consecutive storms blanket rez

Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero
Wilson Laughing, 78, carries a plastic bucket he was using to sit on while trying to free his pickup truck from the snow on Friday.

A succession of storm systems that have walloped California within the last two weeks poured over to the Navajo Nation, discharging significant amounts of snow into central and northeastern Arizona. The National Weather Service began issuing winter weather advisories and warnings anticipating the coming storms.

On Jan. 13, the weather service forecasted snowstorms beginning on Jan. 14, through Jan. 18, for areas above 4,500 feet.

Sawmill chapter employee Stanley Yazzie, a lifelong resident of the area, said last Friday that people living in the Sawmill area are usually prepared for arduous weather systems and the hardship they create when the miles of dirt roads that help rural Diné stay connected to the rest of the reservation become impassable. The recent snowstorms caught people usually prepared off guard, he said.

Yazzie was out with the Apache County Emergency Management and Preparedness helping them locate trapped residents since last Thursday along Apache County Road 9703, which stretches over 20 miles across mountainous Defiance Plateau terrain.

As the crews were about to make their way back to Sawmill, about an hour from their location, Yazzie got a call about an older man who had been trapped in by the snowstorm that covered his quarter-mile road with about four feet of snow. Yazzie told the emergency crews the older man was requesting water and hay for his sheep.

With the Apache County Emergency Management and Preparedness, Eric Garcia, Cody Waite, and Yazzie immediately sped off to help the resident Wilson Laughing.

A Navajo Department of Transportation grader had already cleared a path to his home. When Yazzie, Garcia, and Waite arrived, they saw Laughing struggling to dig his pickup truck out of the snow near his sheep corral.

Laughing, 78, a month shy of 79, was sitting on a plastic bucket and was using a snow shovel. He told them his vehicle had become stuck when he attempted to drive his truck to the corral to feed his sheep the last bale of hay he had.

When the grader cleared a path to his home, Laughing instantly grabbed his shovel to free his truck so he could feed his flock.

Yazzie spoke in Navajo and asked Laughing if he’d like their help. He agreed. He grabbed his cane to let the emergency management team free his pickup truck.

When his truck was freed, Laughing got in and drove to the corral. Garcia and Waite again offered to help him feed his sheep, and again, he accepted.

“Nléídi shá ndéedoozíłdo nt’ee, chizh shijááhjí,” he asked Yazzie.

Yazzie explained they were running out of daylight and needed to return to Sawmill, but they would return the following day.

“Iishją́ą́shį́į́. Dooládo ahxéhee da,” Laughing said to the emergency crew as they departed.

A day before, the emergency management team, led by former Apache County Sheriff Brian Hounshell, helped another couple when the team plowed a path to their homestead.

Dry wood, food, and water needed

Simonson said her chapters needed dry wood, food, and water on Monday.

“There are some places we don’t have water,” she said, adding some of her constituents used solar to power their homes. “Because of the snow and probably clouds, their batteries have run out. So yeah, food, water, and just getting out of their driveway.”

Medical emergencies were another concern Simonson wanted the Nygren-Montoya Administration and the Council to address.

“Some folks have to go to get medical services, dialysis treatments, and those kinds of things. And then a lot of our folks have in-home care,” she said. “It might be like … they’re not physically capable of building their own fire or cooking a meal for themselves. And that’s why the in-home care worker comes to see them and if they can’t come to see them. Nobody’s providing that service.”

On Friday, at the Navajo Department of Transportation, Navajo tribal officials updated Vice President Montoya, who visited the emergency operations north of Sawmill.

“Tachíí, Blue Gap, Burnt Corn, roads are impassable, (They’re) needing more reinforcements, they have about fifteen inches of snow,” Edmund Tso, the emergency operations command planning section chief, told Montoya. “They have a grader out there operating but are requesting for reinforcements. And Hard Rock, they declared an emergency. They got nine roads that need clearing. CHR (Community Health Representatives) is ongoing, and they’re doing their follow-ups on a daily basis. Big Mountain, they still need water, food, and hay, and their roads still need to be graded.”

Heavy equipment having difficulties clearing snow

Tso told the vice president heavy equipment clearing snow off the dirt roads in Black Mesa was having difficulty and was getting stuck.

They’re having difficulties with it,” Tso said. “That’s gonna happen again when the snow starts to melt.”

According to the National Weather Service, a warming trend was in the forecast this weekend, followed by a slight chance for a mixture of rain and snow on Monday. As temperatures begin to warm, the melting snow could create flooding similar to last year’s monsoonal rains that caused floodings. When the monsoon rains have brought much-needed moisture to the Navajo Nation, the torrential downpour raced down the Chuska Mountains and through Defiance Plateau, which feeds into Tsaile and Wheatfields Lakes. The waters run through Canyon de Chelly, Nazlini, and eventually flow into Many Farms.

Emergency officials are preparing for possible floods the melting snow could create.

On Wednesday, Council Delegate Brenda Jesus chimed in during a debate on whether to give $20,000 in emergency funding to all 110 chapters so they could be better prepared to handle their emergencies.

“Let’s go ahead and approve the amendment and go from there to get monies out to our constituents with this emergency that we have,” she told the Council.

The winds are expected to return as the coming months become warmer, bringing 60-70 mph winds with them. The National Weather Service is estimating temperatures could reach as high as 43 degrees during the day and as low as 9 degrees.

State of emergency

Sonlatsa Jim, with the Division of Community Development, told the Council on Wednesday they were inundated with calls for help.

“We are under a state of emergency, and this morning I was at the emergency operation center helping all of the emergency teams out there regarding hundreds of chapter emergency requests that are coming in right now as we speak,” Jim told the Council as she explained the tribe not having an emergency plan.

She told Jesus the division dealt with two emergency declarations – Covid and weather.

“We are under two emergency declarations. We are still under the Covid emergency declaration; it has not ended, and we have not stood down.

“So, we have chapters responding to community spread, also known as outbreaks. So, we do with CHRs and the health professionals to respond the specific communities that are experiencing high outbreak,” Jim said. “On top of that, we do have the winter storm emergency that just hit us, and we do know that there are some chapters that are struggling to coordinate their response with the Department of Emergency Management.”

To add to the already complicated situation, Jim informed the Council that the many vacant positions and newly hired personnel were slowing down efforts.

Yazzie, who is Sawmill’s Chapter maintenance tech when he is not saving lives, said he knows all of the folks who live on the plateau. While he anticipates when the snow turns into mud, which he expects to be “really bad,” he and his neighbors are used to it.

“They park their vehicles on the graded road,” he said.

For himself, he said he’s used to it. They made a homemade sled they connected to two horses to trek through the snow to get around. For the folks they’ve been helping, he assumed they were caught off guard, which was not typical of them.

“We stock up on everything and get ready for winter,” he said casually.

About The Author

Donovan Quintero

"Dii, Diné bi Naaltsoos wolyéhíígíí, ninaaltsoos át'é. Nihi cheii dóó nihi másání ádaaní: Nihi Diné Bizaad bił ninhi't'eelyá áádóó t'áá háadida nihizaad nihił ch'aawóle'lágo. Nihi bee haz'áanii at'é, nihisin at'é, nihi hózhǫ́ǫ́jí at'é, nihi 'ach'ą́ą́h naagééh at'é. Dilkǫǫho saad bee yájíłti', k'ídahoneezláo saad bee yájíłti', ą́ą́ chánahgo saad bee yájíłti', diits'a'go saad bee yájíłti', nabik'íyájíłti' baa yájíłti', bich'į' yájíłti', hach'į' yándaałti', diné k'ehgo bik'izhdiitįįh. This is the belief I do my best to follow when I am writing Diné-related stories and photographing our events, games and news. Ahxéhee', shik'éí dóó shidine'é." - Donovan Quintero, an award-winning Diné journalist, served as a photographer, reporter and as assistant editor of the Navajo Times until March 17, 2023.


Weather & Road Conditions

Window Rock Weather

55% humidity
wind: 19mph SW
H 43 • L 27

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