Flood Survivors Left High And Dry


In the early morning hours of Sept. 9, while most of Rim country was asleep, Gloria and Lawrence Elchlepp were clinging to a piece of rebar as flood waters up to 12 feet deep raged around them, sweeping nearly everything they owned into the once docile Campaign Creek.

The 10 inches that fell in a matter of hours that night caused two creeks and a normally dry wash to combine into a fierce fury that swept through the subdivision of Roosevelt Estates, destroying existing dikes. Most of the homes along Campaign Creek were either damaged or destroyed.


"We dug out nine boats and between six and eight travel trailers," Roosevelt Recovery Team member, Bruce Bunch, said. "Most of the trailers were destroyed."

"When water started coming through the heat vents in the floor, I knew we'd bought the farm," Lawrence Elchlepp said, pointing out a patch of grass growing in the master bedroom."

In order for Elchlepp and the others to receive any assistance, the community had to be declared a disaster area by Governor Janet Napolitano. A letter mailed to Gila County Sept. 30 stated the damage was not substantial enough to qualify as a natural disaster, thus closing the door for any federal assistance.

"The next day, government officials were here, but after that they were gone," Elchlepp said. "You heard no more."

The Roosevelt Recovery Team was formed to try to streamline and centralize the recovery efforts.

"We have a number of people who are in dire need," Velma Hodson, chairman of the recovery team, said. "There are at least three people whose homes were completely destroyed by the floods. Three others are damaged, but restorable."

Most did not have flood insurance because the area was not designated a flood plain.

Hodson said some with insurance are afraid to make a claim for fear they will be dropped by the insurance company -- or their rates will skyrocket.

Longtime residents like Bruce Bunch say they had never seen anything like this before in the region. Bunch is a neighbor to several of the worst hit homes. The retired engineer has been part of the recovery team since its formation.

"I lost my orchard, but that's not a big deal," Bunch said. "Tom had the most damage," pointing to the home of Tom and Glenda Baker, next door to the Elchlepps' former home.

"Everyone living along Campaign Creek was trapped in their homes that night," Hodson said. "Tom and Glenda had four feet of water running through their home. Tom tried to hold the front door closed and a wall of water hit so hard, it threw him back against the kitchen counter. They ran into a bedroom and managed to hold the door closed."

The Baker home, like the Elchlepp's is a complete loss.

"The lightning was like a strobelight that night," Elchlepp said. "The rains got harder and harder. My wife said, ‘There's a river running through the front yard.'"

As the flood waters grew stronger, pressing against the walls of the house, the Elchlepps grabbed important papers and stood on a concrete slab in front of their house.

"We could feel the house moving. We thought it was going to slip away," Elchlepp said. "I had horses in the barn in the back and when I saw this much water going through the front, I knew my horses were in trouble. The next day, I found them down the creek on higher ground. They were OK, but everything was gone."

The Elchlepps' barn, corral, horses, two tons of hay, gazebo, garden, picnic table and pieces of their home, landed a half mile down the creek, tangled in cottonwood trees.

Elchlepp and his wife moved into this retirement home six months ago. They put most of their hard-earned savings into new carpeting and appliances and furniture.

"We itemized everything and it came out to about $176,000," Elchlepp said. "Our insurance agent came out and just said, ‘Sorry, bye-bye.' Our insurance covered nothing. We didn't think we were in a flood plain, so we didn't buy flood insurance -- but we are now," Elchlepp said, pointing to the creek bed that rose eight feet after the flood.

Bunch and others dug out more than nine boats and travel trailers buried in the wash, most were destroyed.

"The flood plain has changed dramatically," Hodson said. "Because of the new levels in the creek beds, many more lives and property are in immediate danger of increased flooding with rain amounts nowhere near those of Sept. 9"

"These people are still at risk," Tony Kumparak said. Kumparak, a native of Roosevelt, is a licensed contractor and has been donating his services to those whose homes are in disrepair.

Kumparak is currently working on the home of Scott and Christy Penner, who are living in an 18-foot travel trailer with their three children.

"The Penners had insurance," Kumparak said. "Only it didn't take effect until Sept. 29."

Lon Thiele, co-chairman of the recovery team, described Christy Penner's ordeal.

"Scott was at work and Christy was at home with her kids," Thiele said. "She, her three kids, three dogs and two cats, climbed on top of a bunk bed."

The family was rescued two hours later by a friend, who took them to safety.

"Tony has been indispensable. He's not asking for any money," Thiele said. "But your stomach can get awful empty and the bills can get way behind."

Allan and Marie Ross and their two children, have been living in their boat for the past several weeks. Both employed by the Tonto Basin Fire District, they were responding to emergency calls while the flood waters ravaged their home.

The Rosses are just one of six families who have applied for the only possibility of compensation -- a buy-out by Gila County.

About $500,000 leftover from the Rodeo-Chediski Fire funds may be used to buy-out the worst affected properties along Campaign Creek, many of which now sit below the creek bed.

Mariano Gonzales of the Gila County Department of Emergency Services has been trying to address the situation on two fronts -- getting applicants considered for a buy-out and working with the Natural Resources Conservation District (NRCD) to repair some of the dikes destroyed in the flood.

The Elchlepps, the Bakers, the Rosses and the Penners are among those who have applied for the buy-out.

According to Gonzales, if funds become available for a buy-out, it will be up to the Gila County Board of Supervisors to approve the action. Gila County must come up with 25 percent of the cost, either in cash or in-kind services.

"The board has authorized us to explore any and all options." Gonzales said. "Funding is a different story. I'm not there yet."

The county also must contribute 25 percent to any dike repair.

In the meantime, the displaced residents of Roosevelt wait, not knowing if they will ever get help from any government agencies.

"As a recovery team, we've been trying to find other sources of assistance for these people," Bunch said. "The Army Corps of Engineers came and walked the area and told us we could do some bank stabilization."

Residents along Campaign Creek were told they could erect small retaining walls along the bank to prevent further damage.

"The buy-out program will help these people along the wash, but it won't solve the problem of the wash," Kumparak said. "We need to do something right now because it's not going to take but an inch of rain to flood these people out again."

"We need to remove all the debris and re-establish the flood plain," Bunch said. "Remove all the material and put it back to pre-flood condition."

The recovery team is exploring all avenues to assist the victims. A few community organizations, including Payson's Kiwanis Club of Zane Grey Country, have donated cash to the recovery.

"We could also use any building supplies," Kumparak said. "We need any framing materials, drywall, baseboards, floor coverings and cabinets."

As Roosevelt's rainy season approaches, flood victims wonder if they will ever feel safe again.

"Every time it rains, I'm nervous," Marie Ross said. "I just pace the floor."

"I salvaged my boat and I sold it," Elchlepp said. "I don't want nothing to do with the water other than what I drink or bathe in."

For more information on how to help the victims of the Roosevelt flood, contact Velma Hodson at (928) 467-2636 or Lon Thiele at (928) 467-2260. Cash donations can be deposited at any Wells Fargo Bank for the Roosevelt Recovery account. Donations also can be mailed to: P.O. Box 663, Roosevelt, AZ 85545.

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