Snowmelt spurs flooding from Southwest to Rocky Mountains, 2 rescues

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A rapid spring snowmelt after an unusually wet winter is triggering flooding from the Southwest to the Rocky Mountains, prompting residents there and in the upper Midwest to evacuate or sandbag between torrential streams and rivers .

In New Mexico, rescue workers rescued people from at least two vehicles from flood waters in Jemez Pueblo, north of Albuquerque, Thursday night, the National Weather Service said.

But there were no immediate reports of deaths or serious injuries. A flood warning was in place for communities along the Jemez River until next week.

In Flagstaff, Arizona, neighbors have been working side by side with shovels on a street since Tuesday to ward off floodwaters from their homes.

Three creek retention ponds installed last year helped better control the water tumbling down from the burned mountains above the city, officials said. Still, water engulfed the shoulder of a local freeway, and several roads and sidewalks were closed this week as the weather warmed and snow melted and made its way into the neighborhood. Parts of urban hiking trails were also flooded.

Officials said it was a scenario that came with no playbook.

“It would be nice to have an accurate model of what we need to do, but we don’t have that,” Flagstaff Deputy Mayor Austin Aslan told the Arizona Daily Sun. “We don’t know what the next fire will be like or where that scar will be. There are small differences that direct the water to one neighborhood or another.”

Sandoval County in northern New Mexico issued an emergency disaster declaration following severe flooding in communities near the Jemez River.

No evacuations had been ordered, but residents in an area between Jemez Pueblo and Jemez Springs that regularly floods during the summer rainy season collected sandbags as a precaution. A local police chief estimated that a dozen homes and other buildings along the river could be at risk of being inundated with water.

“Warm temperatures continue to result in rapid snowpack melting and increased river flows,” the National Weather Service in Albuquerque said Thursday evening.

The deluge also caused a sewage treatment plant that discharged recycled water into the Jemez River to overflow. The US Forest Service advised people not to fish in the river or drink water south of the facility.

In Salt Lake City, Mayor Erin Mendenhall signed an emergency order late Wednesday to help residents whose homes in the southeastern part of the city were threatened by flooding. Rapidly melting snow on the nearby mountains caused water to rush through a neighborhood stream, prompting the voluntary evacuation of about 100 homes.

The water receded as cooler weather moved to the area. Still, several mudslides were reported on canyon roads, including one that forced the temporary closure of Interstate 80 southeast of the city early Thursday.

On Wednesday, local officials north of Salt Lake City issued evacuation orders for at least 20 homes in Kaysville, where flooding tore a large cut that damaged a street, sidewalks and driveways in a subdivision under construction.

Meanwhile, heavy snowpack and elevations expected to reach 60 degrees Thursday caused flooding in northwest Colorado, where traffic officials closed Highway 40 between Craig and Steamboat Springs, a popular ski resort that has received more than 40 inches of snow this winter.

Flooding in the small mountain town of Hayden forced schools to close. Rain was forecast Thursday afternoon with expectations of overnight snow.

The Colorado Department of Transportation posted photos online showing Dry Creek spilling its banks at a bridge, as well as flood water threatening several parked recreational vehicles.

The national weather service said some roads could become impassable over the weekend and urged motorists not to drive through flooded intersections.

However, as of Thursday, there were no reports of major damage in Utah or Colorado.

Rapid snowmelt and possible rain showers in April fueled fears of severe flooding on the Northern Plains. Residents have assembled thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of sandbags to hold back water.

The Red River Valley, which includes Fargo, North Dakota, and Moorhead, Minnesota, had one of the snowiest winters on record. Heavy rain could cause the river to surge rapidly, Moorhead City Engineer Bob Zimmerman told Minnesota Public Radio.

Democratic Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz told a news conference Thursday that the state stands ready to respond with financial aid for flooding if needed.

He added that warmer temperatures and rising waters due to climate change had factored into the state’s months of preparation for the spring flood season.

Public safety and emergency management partners at the local, state and federal levels have increased monitoring and preparedness efforts, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has declared the statewide emergency for spring flooding and made the National Guard available to help fight flooding in the coming weeks, the Bismarck Tribune reported. The city of Bismarck opened places where residents could fill their own sandbags.

In northern Montana, the Milk River was expected to reach its highest level in more than a decade, flooding some rural areas.

Emergency officials along the river in Glasgow were patrolling the sea wall protecting the town of about 3,200 to make sure it held out, said Valley County Disaster and Emergency Services coordinator Rick Seiler. Emergency shelters have been set up in case low-lying areas need to be evacuated.

Flooding is expected to continue into next week, according to the National Weather Service.

Heavy rain fell in the region on Thursday, while snow continued to pile up at higher elevations, Seiler said.


Associated Press writer Trisha Ahmed in Minneapolis; Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana; Terry Tang in Phoenix; Thomas Peipert in Denver; and Scott Sonner of Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.

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