Rain causes flooding, evacuations across state

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By Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Heavy rains pushed previously drought-stricken rivers from their banks and flooded streets and mountain canyons across New Mexico Friday, forcing evacuations from Las Vegas to the U.S.-Mexico border.

In southern New Mexico, Truth or Consequences officials said people around Las Animas and Palomas Creeks were told Friday morning to immediately leave their homes and head to the city's convention center for emergency shelter. Authorities became concerned after the Rio Grande, which had been dry for months south of Albuquerque, overflowed.

Truth or Consequences Mayor Pro Tem Sandra Whitehead said the city had experienced days of rains before the rivers and creeks began to overflow.

"We needed it to rain," said Whitehead. "But this is too much rain at one time." Whitehead said she didn't know how many people were evacuated but said only a handful used the convention center.

The three to four days of rain that have been falling across the state stem from the same storm system that has battered Colorado, causing at least three deaths.

Kerry Jones, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Albuquerque, said the recent storm system was responsible for record rainfall in some areas in New Mexico that aren't used to handling the rain.

"We are seeing life-threatening floods from the heavy rains," Jones said. "They are also from the (river) runoffs that in most cases, take hours to see the effects."

Jones said the heavy rain was expected to let up late Friday and through the weekend but some areas would still see thunderstorms.

Monique Esquivel, owner of Handbags & More in Las Vegas, said she knew the streets near her downtown business would see flooding since it's located near the river. She opted not to open Friday.

"People in this area probably haven't seen anything like this in 10 years," said Esquivel, whose business was not hurt. "Still, some people were shocked."

In northern New Mexico, the Las Vegas Optic reported major flooding forced the evacuation of homes, schools and businesses near the overflowing Gallinas River. Part of the canal that carries flood waters to Storrie Lake ruptured, which contributed to the flooding in the area, San Miguel County Commissioner Nicolas Leger told the Optic.

Leger said that the flooding likely would have still happened even if the canal hadn't ruptured because the canal isn't designed to take the amount of water that was flowing Friday. But he said water in the canal is finding its way back into the Gallinas River.

Authorities rescued several people from a Las Vegas houses, Office of Emergency Management spokeswoman Kiki Arellano said, but it was unclear how many.

Meanwhile, Los Alamos Commander Preston Ballew told The Associated Press that there was canyon flooding in burn scar areas from recent wildfires around that northern New Mexico city. He said some roads were closed and there was sporadic residential flooding.

In Albuquerque, the Albuquerque Journal reported the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was warning Albuquerque residents to stay out of the riverside bosque, as a flood flow at level not seen on the river since the early 1960s was making its way down the Rio Grande from Sandoval County.

State transportation officials ordered Interstate 40 reduced to one lane in both directions around 20 miles west of Albuquerque at To'hajiileto repair a 20-foot sinkhole in the median.

To the south, Dona County officials said an earthen dam outside La Union had breached and water, gas and wastewater service to about 300 residences was down.

In northwestern New Mexico, San Juan County officials said the flooding knocked out water service to some residents. Officials there also warned residents to prepare for more flooding if the area got more thunderstorms.