Fall storms cause need for aid

Student News

Posted: November 8, 2013

By Andrew Harrington  (CJ475 Advanced Multimedia Journalism)

 ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Flooding in New Mexico began with rainfall Sept. 9, and the damage left behind from the storms is still taking its toll.

On Sept. 13, Gov. Susanna Martinez signed an executive order declaring an emergency due to floods caused by the heavy rains.

 “The declaration covers the entire state of New Mexico and makes funding available to the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to assist local communities in recovery efforts,” according to a press release from the governor’s office.

The American Red Cross set up 12 shelters across the state to help evacuate people in the last 12 days.  More than 900 meals have been served since Sept. 21, said Beverly Allen, Communications Coordinator for the American Red Cross in New Mexico.

 “I believe 23 of the 33 counties in New Mexico have flood damage,” said Allen.

 The shelters were placed in Carlsbad, Roswell, Vado, Truth or Consequences, Grants, Glenwood, Crownpoint, the Santa Claran Hotel in Espanola for Santa Clara Pueblo, another in Espanola, two in San Felipe Pueblo and Las Vegas, said Allen. Allen said the American Red Cross brings what the communities need, whether it is to provide safe shelter, baby formula, diapers, or prescription medicine.

 “It would be unfair to say one community had more damage than the other by the Red Cross standards,” Allen said, “because every disaster is a major disaster when it’s the Red Cross responding.”  

 U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Sept. 19 there have been two joint, bipartisan letters, written with U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Reps. Steve Pearce and Ben Ray Luján, sent to President Barrack Obama requesting quick action regarding flooding in July, as well as help assessing the damage from the recent storms.

 “The lawmakers added that severe floods in the last week have compounded the damage, causing multiple community evacuations, further public infrastructure damage, landslides and damaged homes across the state,“ stated the press release.

Dr. David Gutzler, professor of Earth and Planetary sciences who researches meteorology for UNM, said that people should be aware whether they live on a flood plain.

“Especially in a semi-arid climate, it is very easy for people to look at a channel that obviously was created by a river that flowed at one time even though there’s no water now, and just scoff,” Gutzler said. “How could you possibly have water in that channel? It’s dry, it’s always been dry, and I’ve never even seen water in that channel. Well, the reason there’s that channel is because water flowed and carved it. It may not happen very often, but when it does and you’re in the way, you’re in trouble.” 

Allen said a contribution to the situation in New Mexico is that “we are a very, very rural state.”

 “Infrastructure can be very taxed in a situation like this,” she said.

Gutzler said that the floods occurred from water flowing through many channels throughout the state.

“A lot of people found out for the first time in their own lifetimes what a big flood means in a lot of these channels in the west,” Gutzler said.

This creates a problem when people are not paying for flood insurance which is separate from the standard home owner’s insurance for most insurance companies, said Gutzler.

 “[People] get tired of paying those premiums for flood insurance when you’ve never seen that creek higher than a certain level. Why am I shoveling out money to the insurance company? It’s just money gone,” said Gutzler. “Well, an event like this comes along and people lose property, their house altogether and the insurance company is left in a position of shrugging its shoulders saying, ‘Well, I’m sorry. You were offered flood insurance and you chose not to pay for it.’ That’s a risk a lot of people take.” 

Allen said the most important thing people can do to ease recovery after a disaster is to be prepared before it occurs.

“In addition to this being disaster time this September in New Mexico, this is also National Preparedness Month,” Allen said. “We urge people to be prepared, make a plan, have a grab and go kit with enough food and water for three days for every person and pet in your family, make sure you have medications in it and get involved in your community.  Find out what evacuation routes are to be used in case of disasters.”

The American Red Cross is recruiting volunteers,  who will be provided training, said Allen.

“The best way one can help in New Mexico is to make a financial donation,” said Allen.

Allen said donations can be made at http://www.redcross.org/newmexico.