Flood devastates homeless community

September 14, 2013 • Local News

Passers-by check out the flood damage done to E. Mescalero near the Roswell Country Club, Friday. (Mark Wilson Photo)

She sat with her legs crossed with her chin down Friday afternoon. Behind her were two tents tucked into the dark, ab[auth] andoned entrance of a shuttered business in the parking lot of Roswell Mall.

Her eyes were closed and she wiped her tears away slowly with her shaky hands as they streamed down weathered cheeks.

But Mary Ann Keegan was safe.

“Everybody’s been looking for her,” said her friend, Tony. “She’s in pain.”

Keegan has become the center of attention for local residents who had cared for the handful of homeless who many feared were injured or lost after floodwaters in the Berrendo Creek washed out their campsites beneath the Main Street bridge.

Her truck, that doubled as her home and shelter, had been swept away and found destroyed downstream. No one could locate her.

Tony and a few other homeless people had found shelter at the abandoned building near the mall following the flash flood. Homeless advocates had since found them and delivered clothing, tents, sleeping bags, water and a few supplies.

“I was able to contact quite a few people who have donated sleeping bags,” said Jeneva Martinez. “All of Mary Anne’s stuff was washed away.”

Keegan apparently had injured herself walking up the creek bed and was hospitalized. She broke four ribs and will now be sleeping on the concrete outside of the building among overgrown shrubs and debris.

In the last few months, she has lost her husband and her two dogs. She had recently acquired a new puppy. But upon her return from the hospital, she was told that her puppy was in an accident and had to have his leg amputated.

Tony said he hoped someone would donate an old truck to help get her back on her feet.

“It’s really frustrating,” Tony said. “She has no clothes. Everything was in the truck. We just jumped and ran. We saw the truck and it was just floating away.”

Sandra Madero, who stopped by the make-shift camp at the mall site Friday, said her granddaughter stayed up all night Wednesday night worried about Mary Ann.

“My granddaughter couldn’t sleep thinking of you all,” Madero said. “She got all her savings and she wanted to use it on you all.”

Her granddaughter, Gabbie Vasquez, and her friend gathered $50 to purchase clothing, sleeping bags and food to deliver to the group.

“It was beautiful,” Tony said. “The people in this town have good hearts.”

Another 61-year-old man, who called himself The Wanderer, said he got out in time but also lost everything. He managed to escape his small site under the bridge. But he returned Friday to find that it no longer existed.

“I lost everything,” he said. “We all did.”

He can’t get any more gear together until he finds another place to live, he said. He lost a new tent, coveralls and sleeping bag in the flood.

He rides a bicycle with a sleeping bag attached, and keeps himself clean. He refuses to beg for anything. He’s not a sign-holder, he said.

He did take the time to stop by and check on his fellow campers, but he preferred to find his own place to call home.

“I run by myself,” he said. “I’m not a bum. I don’t drink. I don’t ask anybody for nothing. I put myself on the street. Ain’t nobody did it to me.”

A local committee has worked diligently in the past few years to find a building to provide shelter for an estimated 150 homeless in Chaves County, said Jane Batson, interim assistant vice president for external affairs at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell. Several obstacles still remain for a long-term solution.

“Right now, I know there are some needs,” Batson said. We’re going to have to have something in place by the time it gets to winter. We just don’t want that to happen again, if we can prevent it. So that’s what we’re working on.”

More immediately, Batson said anyone who wants to donate items for the homeless people who were affected by this week’s flooding can go to La Puerta Abierta, 809 West Alameda, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, or from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. Or call 625-6975. They can also call Batson at 624-7233 to make a donation.

To make a financial donation to assist in the homeless situation in Chaves County, call La Familia Mental Health at 623-1220 and mention the non-profit Embrace, Batson said.

Items most needed for the flooding victims are air mattresses, clothing, stoves, pots, pans, sleeping bags, socks, T-shirts, toiletries and other basic camping essentials.

The region might see additional precipitation this weekend.

The National Weather Service will continue a flood warning for Chaves County through today. A chance of rain is expected throughout the weekend, said NWS Meteorologist Chuck Jones.

“We’re concerned about the next two to three days,” Jones said. “It will be active, but not as busy and as widespread with the heavy rain events as we’ve seen the last few days.”

But with the ground as saturated as it is, it wouldn’t take much rain to cause problems in the rivers and spark another flash flood situation, he said.

“It could potentially cause problems,” Jones said.

Regional water officials said water levels look good following this week’s storm.

“This doesn’t make up for all the rain we haven’t gotten, but this is sure going to help,” said Aron Balok, of the Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District.

The district measured 70,000 acre feet in storage as of early Friday. The district should have 90,000 acre feet, Balok said.

“If we get another good one like this one, it will sure do a lot to get us back to where we want to be.”

Carlsbad was still in recovery mode, according to Dudley Jones, district manager of the Carlsbad Water Irrigation District.

“It did not impact the farms,” Jones said. “Most of the rain fell west of the river system. We’ve been focused on managing the flows and dealing with flood flows. Now we’ll have to focus on recovery.”

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