BELEN — The monotonous drone of power washers and water pumps echoed through the streets of Belen all day Wednesday as residents and business owners mopped up after flood waters washed through the Hub City.
The downpour began around 8:40 p.m., Tuesday, July 6, and as the storm continued, emergency services personnel were out, blocking off water-covered roads.
At about 9:30 p.m., the city received reports the Highline Canal at Delgado Avenue (near Belen High School) had breached, sending tons of water into the city. Crews with the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, which owns the canal, were working on other overflow and silt situations, but did help with the breach at about 3:30 a.m., Wednesday.
Because of the breach, residents on Delgado, Castillo and parts of Gilbert took on significant water. The water flowed through those streets down to Main Street and continued down Reinken, Dalies, Becker and east to west from Second to Sixth streets. The water reached as far as Ross to the north and Bernard to the south.
While the breach of the Highline Canal caused water to flow into and flood the streets of Belen, there were other areas of the city that were affected directly from the heavy rains, such as Impala, DeSoto and others.
A new breach was discovered late Wednesday morning along the New Belen Ditch on Mesa Road, about a quarter mile from the city’s northern boundary in the county. This contributed to continuing water flows in the areas of Impala and Aragon.
Mike Hammon, chief engineer and CEO for the MRGCD, said the district’s primary concern was the two breaks in the Highline and the two in the New Belen Acequia. There were also small breaks in the Garcia Ditch and other ditches throughout the county, Hammon said, totaling about 20 breaks in total for the event.
“We knew the storm was coming so we had evacuated about 90 percent of all the irrigation water before it hit; the Highline was running at about 23 (cubic feet per second),” he said. “We did what we could but these ditches are for irrigation. They’re built for small flows. Two year storm events we deal with all the time, but when you have huge storm cells like we did last night and in 2018, 100, 200 year events that overwhelm everybody, our little canal can’t stop that.”
“It’s what you can’t see, and that’s the scary part,” said Mario Vallejos, owner of Elite Muscle, located on the west side of South Main Street, as he was spraying a collection of mud from the business’ entrance. “Some businesses got hit a lot harder cosmetically, but in reality, we’re all going to suffer with what’s to come in the future,” he said.
Walking through his gym, water could be seen bubbling underneath the rubber flooring. When he pulled up a piece of the original wooden flooring in the back workout room, it also held water below it.
“My wife came out about midnight. We lifted electronics, everything off the floor,” Vallejos said. “She got home about 5 a.m., took about an hour break and has been out since.”
He also had a long night as he was directing traffic until 4 a.m. in his role as a sergeant for the Belen Police Department before being able to assess damage in his gym.
“It’s heartbreaking because it’s not only my business, of course I want to bring attention to my business but I can’t. We (were) trying to stop traffic to stop these guys from flooding,” he said while gesturing to businesses residing on the other side of Main Street. “They took it really hard. It’s just who do you help and where do you go next? You can’t stop water.”
Across the street was a similar scene as people used power washers to move mud off of the sidewalk before a small John Deere front-end loader removed it from the street. Inside the shops, people worked on their hands and knees to clean the floors of the sticky mud brought in by the flowing waters the previous night.
“We were here until midnight trying to block the doors,” said Maria Alicia Cordova, owner of Al’s Styling Salon and business manager of the shopping complex. “This is the second time in three years that this has happened. So the first time it was not as bad. I mean, it was bad, just not like this. The whole floor was full of mud, full of water.”
She said when the floodwaters previously intruded the building in 2018, it didn’t flow down Becker Avenue as it did this year. She is thankful to the community who has reached out and come help local businesses as they clean up.
In the same complex, Teresa Davis and her family had been cleaning their business, Davis Floral, since early Wednesday morning following a long night of her husband and daughter trying to stop the flood waters from entering into the shop.
“It was just coming from the walls, it was coming from the back, coming from the front,” Davis said. “As people were driving through (Main Street), it was just splashing it in more.”
She thanked her church, First Baptist Church of Los Chavez, for helping her and her family with the clean-up.
While Davis Floral has been in business for decades in Belen, they had only moved to their Main Street location post 2018 and after the previous flooding incident.
“This is just, it is what it is,” Davis said with a sigh as people moved around her, continuing to clean.
Flood waters ripped up the walking path along Delgado Avenue Tuesday night after the Highline Canal breached.
Holly Chavez, co-owner of H2 Academic Soluntions on Becker Avenue, talks with Los Lunas Police Department School Resource Officer Mike Sprunk Wednesday morning. Sprunk and fellow SRO Desi Garcia were in the Hub City to lend a hand during flood clean up.
Belen City Councilor Ronnie Torres helps with flood clean up at the Bugg Lights Museum on Becker Avenue.
Flood waters drug mud and silt into the Our Lady of Belen cemetery Tuesday night.
The majority of the gymnasium floor at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Belen was covered in mud and water from Tuesday night’s flooding.
St. Mary’s Catholic School students Joshua Montoya, 14, and his brother, Nathan Montoya, 12, help clean up at the school.
The kitchen at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Belen is awash in mud and standing water from Tuesday night’s flooding.
Crews from the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District repair the Highline Canal near Delgado Avenue where it breached Tuesday night.
On Becker Avenue, Holly Chavez, one of the owners of H2 Academic Solutions surveyed the mess at the building that houses the tutoring and academic intervention company’s office and classroom.
All of the vinyl flooring will have to be replaced after being soaked through with several inches of water and mud, she said. While there has been some flooding at the location, Chavez said it typically happened at the rear of the building. This time, the water came right in the front door.
“We covered the back area and put up a low wall,” Chavez said. “It held the water beautifully that came in from the street. It’s not a big building but it holds a lot of mud.”
During the 2018 flood, most of the water stayed in the street, but there was a lot more water this time and passing vehicles pushed surges of flood water into the building.
“One of the positive things is people showed up out of the blue to help,” she said. “We have a student, board members, employees. They don’t have to be here but they just came by, asking what they can do. That’s what makes it OK in the end.”
Next door at The GRID Gallery, owner Megan Morgan-Cordova and her mother, Lena Malcom, wiped down furniture on the sidewalk, thankful things weren’t worse.
“I was lucky my merchandise was up off the floor,” Morgan Cordova said. “It’s mostly my own things that were damaged.”
The small gallery had several inches of mud covering its concrete flood when the sun came up on the flood waters Wednesday.
Across the street at Books on Becker, Merita Wilson said they learned some lessons from the 2018 flood — keep valuable books up high. Wilson said they lost about a fifth of a recent donation of 800 paperback books, but all told, the damage to their used-book supply wasn’t as bad as three years ago.
While water made it’s way into the store from the street, most of it came in through several compromised places in the roof.
“So, we’ll have to deal with that,” she said.
On North 10th Street, the campus of St. Mary’s Catholic School was awash in mud and standing water. The student drop-off area was a lake, sidewalks coated in slick, thick mud, the boiler room is holding at least a foot of water causing a warning alarm to continuously sound.
In the new parish hall, where students eat lunch, the cafeteria and the gymnasium, water and mud pool, turning the almost brand new building into a devastating scene.
“It’s everywhere — the kitchen, the bathrooms. Just everywhere,” said St. Mary’s Principal Melanie Chavez. “The gym, we took such good care of it and now it’s all going to have to be replaced. In the end, no one was hurt and that’s what matters.”
The facilities are insured and agents have been contacted, she said. Now staff, students and volunteers can only wait and clean.
At Dennis Chavez Elementary on N.M. 314, the New Mexico Chapter of the American Red Cross opened a shelter Tuesday night, which gave shelter to three community members overnight.
New Mexico Chapter logistics lead Dave Bourne said the last client checked out of the shelter Wednesday morning. The organizations first priority is to provide shelter and food during a disaster.
“We work in concert with local emergency personnel and local agencies,” Bourne said.
The Red Cross can also offer limited financial assistance for things like temporary shelter, as well as providing basic cleaning supplies and tools, like brooms, rakes and shovels, to community members as they begin clean up. To inquire about assistance from the Red Cross, call 1-800-842-7349.
Senate Republican Leader Greg Baca (District 29) and Reps. Gail Armstrong (District 49), Alonzo Baldonado (District 8) and Kelly Fajardo (District 7)) issued a joint statement Wednesday afternoon offering their support to those effected by the flood.
“We are paying close attention to the flood emergency in Belen. While we are appreciative of the much needed rain, we are concerned for our community following the flooding last night. Please use caution in areas that are still flooded and follow safety instructions from officials.”
Baca spent Tuesday evening with first responders while they worked to close the breach in the Highline.
“Last night I was on site and in direct communication with DOT, MRGCD and the governor’s office to ensure assistance is being delivered for our community,” said Baca. “Now is the time for our community to band together. Please help your neighbors who are in need and if you need assistance please do not hesitate to contact the city of Belen or my office.”
The city of Belen has set up a flood assistance hotline, 966-2734. Baca’s office can be reached at 986-4877 or 385-7303.