Flooding on the Salt Creek rapidly flows and rises under a bridge along US 285 north of Roswell, Wednesday morning.
Flooding unleashed by a sudden gush of rushing water delivered into Berrendo Creek Wednesday caused widespread road closures, property damage, accidents and displaced residents.
Rainfall was expected to continue through Thursday morning, with a flash flood warning in effect until 6 a.m. today. Roads throughout the city would remain closed today for public safety until water has receded, Chaves County Road Department officials said.
“Right now, I can’t even assess the damage, it’s raining so hard,” said Chaves County Flood Control Superintendent Dick Smith. “We’ve got a really severe problem.”
The water that caused the Berrendo Creek to overrun its banks came from the Blackriver Draw region, north of Arabella. That area received up to six inches of rain Tuesday night. Berrendo Creek is a tributary off the east side of Capitan Mountain, according to Smith.
“That’s where all this water is coming from,” Smith said.
Law enforcement and Chaves County Road Department crews will continue to block off several Roswell roads Wednesday night and Thursday until the region dries out from the flooding of Berrendo Creek and rainfall.
Crews are expected to continue block off several roads until the county is certain that conditions are safe for public use, said Chaves County Road Operations Director Terry Allensworth.
“Crews will be out all night and all day tomorrow,” Allensworth said.
The county closed East Berrendo Road when the creek washed it out after 11 a.m. Country Club was closed behind Bright Sky. Brown Road between Pine Lodge and Berrendo was closed. Sycamore Avenue between Berrendo and Pine Lodge was closed and Montana between Berrendo and Country Club was also closed. Crooked Creek at Berrendo was closed off of Atkinson.
Red Bridge Road was closed after water crested over the bridge. The road was closed at 19th Street.
North Montana and Crooked Creek were closed.
Roswell Police Department also closed off several streets to traffic after rainfall caused flooding hazards for drivers, said RPD Spokeswoman Sabrina Morales.
“There have been a couple of vehicles that have been stuck in the water, but every person has been OK,” Morales said. “But that’s why some roads have been closed.”
Morales cautioned drivers to watch for deep water when driving in flooded areas.
“It could be deeper than they actually realize,” Morales cautioned.
The National Weather Service will continue to look for flash flooding in Chaves County until 6 a.m. today. The region between Roswell and Ruidoso received 2-3 inches of rain Wednesday.
The Rio Hondo was above flood action stage at 5 p.m. and the Pecos River was experiencing minor flooding in some areas. Roswell and much of the county was expected to get up to an inch more rainfall overnight, said NWS Meteorologist Clay Anderson.
“We’re waiting to see if Rio Felix makes it down,” Allensworth said. “If it does run tonight, we’ll be closing several more roads in Hagerman, Dexter and Lake Arthur.”
Sgt. Mike Herrington of the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office said their main concerns were the bridges where the water was going over.
“There might have been a couple of accidents but nothing serious,” Herrington said. “There was some damage to fences and hay crops, but nothing serious.”
Dorothy and Billy Hellums rushed home after 11 a.m. to find the back of their fence washed away into the swift-running Berrendo River. Dorothy Hellumns said the river had encroached at least 50 feet onto her backyard within an hour.
The last flooding she witnessed in 1992, since living at the home, didn’t reach that level, she said.
“It’s now no longer a creek, it’s a river,” she said.
As water rushed beneath the Main Street Bridge, passers-by gathered to take videos and photos with their cell- phones.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Dawn Hartwell of Roswell. “I haven’t seen this since 1990. This is just incredible. It went from a dry riverbed to this in no time flat. Everybody could see this wall of water coming around the bend.”
Hartwell said she was concerned about a gathering of homeless people who were often seen staying under the bridge.
“I am hoping and praying they made it out in time,” Hartwell said. “The current in there is unbelievable. I watched a huge tree come down here that had been uprooted.”
Jeneva Martinez was worried about the same group of homeless who she said live beneath the bridge. Advocates in the area regularly check in on the group, to try to assist them and keep in contact.
“We were working on trying to get a homeless shelter last year,” Martinez said.
One man and three women shared a blue tent. One woman, named Marianne, was more stand-offish, Martinez said. Her husband and two dogs died recently, and she became homeless a month ago.
“My husband just saw her and she had a new dog,” she said.
Martinez was worried the homeless group didn’t make it out in time, before the bridge was inundated with water. She was out in the rain, asking officers about any news of Marianne. One of her friends said she had heard a report of a body being found washed up near the bridge.
“A group of us are really concerned,” Martinez said. “I still haven’t been able to locate her. I’m going to keep looking.”
County flood control officials swept the area Wednesday morning to warn the homeless people living there, Herrington said. Local law enforcement reported no deaths or serious injuries as a result of the flooding Wednesday.
“This morning, they went down there, they knew it was coming,” Herington said. “All of the homeless people were evacuated from the area. They were given a one- to two-hour notice.”
When county staff returned, no one remained at the site, Herrington said.
The waters slowly poured in, possibly giving anyone in the area time to leave.
“People had plenty of time to get out,” Herrington said.
The City of Roswell set up an emergency shelter at the gym at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell for residents who couldn’t get home Wednesday night.
A small subdivision at the end of Country Club Road was cut off when water from the flooded Berrendo Creek crossed the road.
“It’s just not safe for people to drive across the road,” said Emergency Manager Karen Sanders.
The city opened a shelter, run by the American Red Cross, for those residents who were not able to get home before the road closure.
Jimi Gadzia, who moved into her home on East Berrendo Road in June, was surprised to see how quickly the creek beside her property rose up and overran her land, taking out structures along the way.
“It was completely flooded,” Gadzia said. “At noon, it was all the way up to the wall and driveway.”
The waters filled the barn, shed and corrals on her property with three feet of standing water, she said. A berm in her yard stopped the water from encroaching closer to her home that sits on higher ground.
“The house is 150 years old and it’s never flooded,” Gadzia said. “I figured I was safe.”
The rushing waters that swept through sometime around noon, she said, took out her fencing, gates and trees. Remnants of the metal structures remained strewn across the road and were caught in the current, entangled in the trees and shrubs.
Gadzia remained positive, though, as several onlookers took photos and videos next to her home throughout the day.
“It was so exciting,” Gadzia said. “Today has been the most exciting day ever.”