Residents Stranded By Creek Turn To County For Food, Medicine

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Residents on the east side of Tonto Creek near Punkin Center, who have been stranded by the rain-swollen creek for two weeks, are running short on supplies and patience.

The three main crossings across the creek southeast of Payson have been flooded and barricaded for 14 days, and Gila County sheriff's deputies have been ticketing restless drivers trying to cross.

"We're all being held prisoner down here," resident Laverne Drummond said Friday.

The swollen creek has stranded Drummond and her neighbors on the east side of the Tonto, and their supplies are running low.

"There are a lot of people on this side of the creek, and we're running out of food, medicine ... we need help," she said.

Roverta Pauley, who has been homebound on the east side of Tonto Creek for two weeks, said she is feeling the pinch, but she counts herself lucky because she still has supplies.

"I have some canned goods still left," she said. "I'm out of everything fresh, of course. We all are."

In addition to the food shortages on the east side, Pauley said a number of elderly residents have had to call on county officials to get medicine and their Social Security checks.

"I'm a diabetic," she said. "The sheriff's department did say that if I called in my prescription, they would pick it up and deliver it."

Law officers are not, however, willing to let other people risk their lives to lend aid to those stranded on the east side of the creek. Paramedic Brian Osbonlighter, an east-side resident who tried to make deliveries to his neighbors Oct. 29, got slapped with a traffic citation for his efforts.

"Last Sunday, I was heading back across the creek, bringing medical supplies," he said. "I was in my own vehicle, because the water wasn't that high yet, and I could carry more than the fire department truck."

Osbonlighter said he was about two-tenths of a mile from the creek when he noticed deputies off to the side of the road and pulled over to talk to them. In turn, they handed him a citation for failure to obey a traffic signal.

"It's been a very interesting time down here," he said. "They've never stopped and cited people before when you're able to cross in four-wheel drive."

It's all in the name of public safety, county officials said, and the Emergency Services division has stepped in to help those stranded.

"We've been in contact with residents there since Thursday," said Mariano Gonzales, deputy director of emergency services. "We had a small group that needed supplies fresh food and vegetables, essentials ... we even had a request for a big bag of dog food.

"We have agreed to service those requests and we're gathering those supplies," he said. "Then, the sheriff's department will deliver them to the fire department, which will transport them across the creek."

The county also is delivering a portable polling booth to the east side of Tonto Creek so residents won't miss the general election today (Tuesday).

In the meantime, Gonzalez said, county officials are keeping an eye on the storms that are forecast to sweep into the area this weekend, and are monitoring supply needs on the east side of the creek.

"We've been pretty much in a monitoring mode since last week to be sure the residents have the supplies they might need," he said. "The residents have been pretty good about contacting us."

For emergency services, call the sheriff's department at (800) 635-8017, or Gonzales' office at (800) 304-4452, ext. 361.

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