Snowmelt leads to heavy flooding from Southwest to Rockies

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) – A rapid spring snowmelt after an unusually wet winter is unleashing flooding from the Southwest to the Rockies, causing residents there and in the Upper Midwest to evacuate or stock up on sandbags amid surging creeks and rivers.’

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

Three creek-retention basins installed last year helped initially, city emergency officials said. But water has engulfed the shoulder of a local highway, and several roads and sidewalks are closed. Even sections of urban trails are submerged.

Officials are calling it an unprecedented amount of water, something that was impossible to plan for.

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

Sandoval County in north-central New Mexico issued an emergency disaster declaration in the wake of severe flooding in communities near the Jemez River. The river was 7.5 feet (2 meters) high as of Thursday afternoon, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Residents of the village of Jemez Pueblo, known for its mineral hot springs, were collecting sandbags as a precaution. The police chief there estimated a dozen homes and other structures along the river could be at risk.

The deluge also led to spillover from a wastewater treatment plant, which was contributing recycled water into the Jemez River. The U.S. Forest Service is cautioning the public not to go fishing or drinking water south of the plant.

In Salt Lake City, Mayor Erin Mendenhall signed an emergency order late Wednesday aimed at helping residents whose homes were threatened by flooding in the southeastern part of the city. Rapidly melting snow in the nearby mountains sent water coursing through a creek in the neighborhood, prompting the voluntary evacuation of about 100 homes.

The water was receding as cooler weather moved into the area. Even so, multiple 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 ripped a large gash that damaged a street, sidewalks and driveways in a subdivision that was under construction.

Meanwhile, heavy snowpack and highs expected to reach 60 degrees Thursday were causing flooding in northwest Colorado, where transportation officials closed Highway 40 between Craig and Steamboat Springs, a popular ski area that has received more than 400 inches (1,016 centimeters) of snow this winter.

Flooding in the small mountain town of Hayden forced the closure of schools for the day, and rain was possible in the area Thursday afternoon before turning to snow overnight. The Colorado Department of Transportation posted photos online showing Dry Creek spilling over its banks at a bridge there, as well as floodwater threatening several parked recreational vehicles.

The National Weather Service issued a flood advisory through midday Saturday, warning that some roads may become impassable and urging motorists not to drive through flooded river crossings.

There were no reports of major damage, however, in Utah or Colorado as of Thursday.

As a speedy snowmelt and possible April showers stoke fears of heavy flooding in the Northern Plains, state officials are announcing flood response plans. Residents have been assembling thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of sandbags to combat floods themselves.

The Red River Valley, which includes Fargo in North Dakota and Moorhead in Minnesota, is facing flood threats as warm weather melts the snow left behind from one of the snowiest winters on record in the two states. Any significant rain could determine the magnitude of the flood crest, Moorhead city engineer Bob Zimmerman told Minnesota Public Radio.

Minnesota’s Democratic Gov. Tim Walz said Thursday at a news conference that the state is ready to move funds “in a very efficient, effective manner” in response to the floods.

He added that warmer temperatures and rising waters from climate change have factored into the state’s months-long preparation for the spring flooding season.

Local, state and federal public safety and emergency management partners have ramped up monitoring and preparation efforts, according to the state’s Department of Public Safety.

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

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

Emergency officials along the river in Glasgow were patrolling the levee protecting the city of about 3,200 people to make sure it held up, said Valley County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Rick Seiler. Shelters were being arranged in case low-lying areas need evacuations.

The flooding was forecast to continue through next week, according to the National Weather Service.

Heavy rain was falling across the region on Thursday while snow continued to pile up at higher elevations, Seiler said.


Associated Press writers Trisha Ahmed in Minneapolis, Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, and Thomas Peipert in Denver contributed to this report.

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