Autorul articolului: Dustin Gardiner, Jahna Berry, Michael Ferraresi
A huge winter storm slammed into Arizona Thursday, flooding highways and forcing some evacuations, stranding travelers at the Phoenix airport, and prompting Gov. Jan Brewer to declare a state of emergency for the entire state. A tornado watch was issued until 10 p.m. Thursday for Maricopa, La Paz, Yuma, and Pinal counties as the massive weather system moved east from California, and heavy winds forced the closure of Thursday night of one of the Valley's elite collector-auto auctions.
Brewer declared the statewide emergency after the counties of Maricopa, Apache, Gila, Coconino and Navajo did the same. Two tents were reportedly blown down shortly after dark Thursday at the Russo-Steele Auto Auction just south of Loop 101 near Scottsdale Road. The Scottsdale Fire Department was on-scene and evacuating the one remaining large tent at the event. One person was reported injured and was being evaluated, but the injury was not believed to be serious.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety shut down Loop 101 between Scottsdale and Hayden in both directions to clear debris from the road near the auction. The nearby Barrett-Jackson collector-car auction being held at Scottsdale's WestWorld moved all of its customers out of a large vendors' tent and into the main auction tent as a precaution because of high winds and rain. While company officials expected the auction to continue Thursday night, many of those in attendance began leaving shortly before 7 p.m.
High-winds shook several smaller auction tents at the Barrett-Jackson auto auction at Westworld in north Scottsdale, forcing event organizers to move all of the action under the larger, main tent Thursday night. Larry Howard, of Kansas City, Mo., was waiting for a valet to bring his car as he prepared to leave, even as the auction continued under the main tent. "They're still selling cars,'' he said.
The heaviest rain was supposed to fall between 2 p.m. and midnight – as much as 5 inches in the north Valley and between one and 2 inches in the Phoenix area. The storm will slowly trail off through Friday morning, but it is possible for light showers into the weekend. The National Weather Service to issued a flash flood watch today for the Phoenix region and a high-wind warning that runs into the night, with predictions of gusts of up to 60 mph.
The biggest part of the storm was expected into the evening, said Ken Waters of the weather service said. "A lot more is coming,'' he said. Heavy snow in northern Arizona caused Coconino and Navajo counties to declare emergencies, and voluntary flood evacuations began in Sedona at about 2 p.m. Thursday as city firefighters went door to door along Oak Creek in anticipation of massive flooding.
Big sections of Interstate 17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff were closed. Poor visibility was restricting operations at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Though most flights in the air to Phoenix by 10:30 a.m. were able to land. Departures from Sky Harbor were stopped after 1 to 2 p.m.
The Phoenix Fire Department relocated two technical-rescue vehicles to north Phoenix in anticipation of heavier flooding. The moves were made to shorten response times for swift-water rescue incidents in areas known to overflow with runoff water, according to acting Phoenix Fire Capt. P.J. Dean. The two squad trucks — normally based at stations in central Phoenix — were deployed to areas around the Loop 101 to have easier access to assist crews with rescues of trapped vehicles and stranded motorists. The trucks provided through federal emergency management grants are capable of responding to technical rescues and hazardous material incidents.
The City of Sedona activated its flood warning system as anxious residents filled sandbags, with many saying they planned to head to friends' homes on higher ground or seek refuge in Phoenix. The National Weather Service issued a severe flood warning for Sedona and surrounding areas lasting through Saturday morning. Water levels in Oak Creek were expected to rise dramatically between 10 p.m. Thursday and 2 a.m. Friday as continual rain fell, melting heavy snow at higher levels north of the town and on surrounding cliffs. The combination was expected to send a deluge into Oak Creek Canyon.
"If it melts in Flagstaff, with rain, it's going to be a disaster,'' said Seth Williams, a 15-year resident of Sedona who lives about a quarter mile from Oak Creek's banks. Williams expects it to be the worst storm he has yet experienced in Sedona. Forecasters warned that Oak Creek could crest above 20 feet above the normal level, putting many neighborhoods along its banks directly into the water's path. The last time Oak Creek topped 20 feet was in a record-breaking storm in 1993, said Gary Johnson, spokesman for the Sedona Fire Department.
Sedona officials activated an emergency flood hotline for residents: 928-203-5111. The city also activated its emergency operations center and firefighters were moving throughout the town to warn residents. "Everyone is packing up and trying to sandbag,'' said Tim Kelley, who lives within a quarter-mile of Oak Creek. "It's a very dangerous body of water.''
The last flood, in 2004, came within inches of topping a stucco retention wall around Kelley's yard. The wall narrowly saved his home. That flood saw a crest at 17 feet, well below what is expected in this storm. Lonnie Lillie, general manager of the Best Western Resort in Sedona, said seven hotel villas on the banks of Oak Creek were being evacuated and renters moved to hotel property on higher ground.
Jerome Handel said he and his girlfriend have packed things to take to Phoenix if the evacuation order comes. He said his landlord told them to be ready Thursday or Friday. "If it rises, than obviously we'll get to higher ground,'' he said. Another man who identified himself only as Christopher was in a hurry to move things like electronics to tables and counters. He said he was taking his mattress to stay with a friend. If water rises high enough, he said he'll then seal his door with silicone and duct tape but was realistic about how well that would work.
"As soon as it gets to the window level, it's done for anyway,'' he said. Gary Johnson, spokesman for the Sedona Fire Department, said city officials are continuing to monitor the creek. Part of the creek-side access already is restricted due to the closure of Arizona 89A between Sedona and a spot south of Flagstaff. That's the route into Oak Creek Canyon, a worldwide vacation destination.
Navajo County officials declared a state of emergency this morning due to heavy snowfall, keeping the county's Emergency Operations Center fully staffed to assist residents with extra resources and manpower. County spokeswoman Tiffany Ashworth said the center's main concerns are clearing roads and monitoring levees near the Colorado River, which could be at risk of flooding due to the storms. Ashworth said the county is also asking ADOT and the Arizona Division of Emergency Management for additional funding, resources and manpower.
"It's the sheer magnitude of what's happening — it's not just one isolated area," Ashworth said, explaining the unanimous decision by the county Board of Supervisors to declare a state of emergency. "Our resources are limited, and with the significant impact the storm is having on us, we're very thin." The Phoenix Fire Department is helping citizens prepare for heavy rain on Thursday by providing citizens with sand to combat flooding on their property, Phoenix Fire Department Capt. P.J. Dean said.
Citizens can bring their own bags to several Phoenix fire stations distributing the sand and take as they need, Dean said. Phoenix Fire Department Station 52, located near the intersection of North Tatum Boulevard and East Deer Valley Road, was one of ten stations that provided local residents with sand and a shovel to put into bags they brought from home or purchased at a local hardware store.
The locations of other fire stations distributing sand can be found on the city of Phoenix Web site or on the Phoenix Fire Department's official Twitter page. The Salt River project began releasing water from its reservoirs Thursday, the third time in three years it has done so. Water will be flowing through the usually-dry Salt River Friday and through the weekend.
SRP said the McKellips Road grade crossing of the river in Mesa will likely be closed by Friday or Saturday and probably through the spring. Recker Road also was closed between Elliot and Warner roads in Gilbert due to flooding. Flooding also caused closures in Scottsdale on Osborn Road between Miller Road and Hayden Road.
Un-bridged roads over the Indian Bend Wash between Chaparral Road and McDonald Drive were also closed. In northern Arizona, Interstate 17 is closed near Camp Verde due to the storm as they are expecting heavy snow all day, Waters said. The snow level is expected between 2 to 4 feet by this weekend. The I-17 is also closed in both directions at mile post 298, the turnoff for Arizona 179 going into Sedona, and at the Flagstaff Airport, just south of Flagstaff due to severe weather conditions, according to Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Doug Nintzel.
Sections of the interstate were closed after several accidents caused by vehicles sliding off the road as they attempted to go uphill. "We're advising drivers to avoid travel to the high country until weather conditions improve," Nintzel said. "We know a lot of folks want to go play in the snow…the best advice we can give is to wait until the conditions improve and then go have fun."
State Route 260 is also closed in both directions between Payson and Heber, Nintzel said. According to the National Weather Service, Flagstaff has seen anywhere between 6 to 8 inches of snow since 10 p.m. Wednesday night.
reporters Derek Quizon, Chelsea Smith, Glen Creno and the Phoenix Mission Magazine contributed to this article.
by Dustin Gardiner, Jahna Berry, Michael Ferraresi
The Arizona Republic (daily newspaper)