Flooded Campers Find Refuge in Churches
Between 300 and 500 people evacuated from homes, a campground and a recreational vehicle park waited Monday (July 28) to see what remains of their homes and recreational vehicles after the Ruidoso, N.M., area was hit by flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Dolly. Two people were reported missing in the water.
The state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said up to 9 inches of rain has fallen in the mountainous area since Friday. Flash flood watches were in effect across much of eastern New Mexico on Monday, according to Fox News.
The Rio Ruidoso went over its banks about midnight, Tom Schafer, Ruidoso's emergency management coordinator, said Sunday.
Ruidoso police took reports of the two people being swept away in separate incidents after apparently losing their footing near the river, Schafer said. He didn't have additional details.
State officials estimated more than 60 homes have been damaged. Nine bridges were confirmed under water and roads in the area were closed, including part of U.S. 70, the main highway in the area. A street at River Ranch RV Park turned into a muddy river, and the racetrack at Ruidoso Downs flooded, canceling Sunday's entire race card.
A helicopter was sent to pick up 20 to 30 people who walked uphill from a flooded campsite, Schafer said. The people were safe on about an acre of land, but authorities wanted to get them out before more rain fell, he said.
But some campers who sought refuge on high ground were still waiting to be rescued Monday morning, KRQE-TV reported.
Campers evacuated from Bonito Creek Campground were sent to a nearby church. Most of the 40 or so people who showed up at the Angus Hill Church of the Nazarene – a designated emergency shelter – were campers "who just came up for a nice weekend" and were flooded out, said Sue Hutchinson, a church volunteer and state-certified first responder who operates a first aid clinic at the church.
Several campers said they awakened as their tents started floating down the river, Hutchinson said.
The church offered meals, sleeping areas, laundry facilities, "entertainment for the kiddos" and the clinic, which took care of bruises and scrapes from a few campers who had to escape quickly, she said.
Other evacuees were offered shelter at a senior citizens' center in Ruidoso Downs, the youth center of a Methodist church, an evacuation center at a Church of Christ and a hotel, the Swiss Chalet, Schafer said.
Dale Broyles, general manager of the Swiss Chalet, said he called police when he heard about the flooding and offered the inn's banquet rooms, since the hotel itself was fully booked. He said a few campers came in and waited for a friend to pick them up.
"They didn't even have shirts on," Broyles said. "They had to leave their tents."