Recovery Slow But Progressing For Flood Victims

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When they discovered no federal aid was coming their way, the victims of Roosevelt's September floods formed a recovery team that has struggled to get the worst affected some kind of help.

On the night of Sept. 9, 10 inches of rain fell within a few hours in the Roosevelt Estates area. Water from the Pinto and Campaign creeks converged with water in the Wildcat Wash to create a wall of water that went straight through an entire neighborhood, completely destroying three homes and leaving several others uninhabitable.

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Roosevelt Recovery Team member and retired engineer Bruce Bunch looks out at the mounds of debris swept into the wash following the September flood. Those who live along the creek now live below the bank, making future flooding inevitable.

According to the governor's office, the damage was not widespread enough to qualify for federal disaster relief.

For Lawrence and Gloria Elchlepp, who lost their retirement home and all its contents, this was a blow.

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

The Roosevelt Recovery Team and flood victims persisted, holding weekly meetings, writing letters, and maintaining constant contact with county officials.

Mariano Gonzales of the Gila County Department of Emergency Services has been working to provide some relief to those who lost everything. This came in the form of a buyout.

About $500,000 left over 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 bank. Gila County must match 25 percent of that money, either with cash, or in-kind services.

"Three of the families whose houses were the most destroyed, are still waiting for some kind of a buy out," Roosevelt Recovery Team Chairman Velma Hodson said. "Mariano Gonzales told us he was hoping that sometime during the first two weeks of January, the board of supervisors would be making some kind of funding decision because the county has to come up with approximately $100,000."

District 2 Supervisor Jose Sanchez told the Roundup that three people are guaranteed to be bought out.

"Yes, I think we can come up with the matching funds," Sanchez said. "We are lucky to get that money because the county doesn't have the funds for these types of things."

For those whose homes were damaged, but not destroyed, progress has been slow.

"Some are back in their homes, but there is still work to be done," Hodson said.

"We've been able to get donations to fix people's houses enough to get them back in and that was our priority," Hodson said. "Now we are slowly working our way down the list of people who had flood damage."

Following a November article in the Roundup about Roosevelt's flood victim's, Hodson said the people of Payson and surrounding areas answered the call.

"We had a wonderful, wonderful outpouring from Payson," Hodson said. "There were people who went down to the Wells Fargo and made donations. We had people calling us on the phone constantly. We got furniture, tile, cash donations -- it was marvelous."

Local contractors like Tony Kumparak continue to donate time and skill to those who need repairs.

"This is my home," Kumparak said. "The best way I can help people is to get them back in their homes -- get things back to some sort of normalcy."

Hodson said Kumparak and other contractors are now focusing on the bigger problem -- the fact that many homes are below the creek bed.

"The buyout program will help some people along the wash, but it won't solve the problem of the wash," Kumparak said.

"We need to remove all the debris and re-establish the flood plain," recovery team member and retired engineer Bruce Bunch said. "Remove all the material that has washed in and put it back to pre-flood condition."

Residents were hoping the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) might assist in rebuilding some of the dikes destroyed in the flood.

"The NRCS does have a watershed protection plan," Hodson said. "They came down here and did two separate visual tours. They issued a letter in December and their decision was to repair a couple of problems up on Pinto Creek close to where our community water system is. They are not going to do anything else to any of the other creeks out here that caused the flooding because they say it isn't economically feasible."

A letter from the NRCS to Deputy County Manager Steve Besich said the agency would repair some sections of an upstream dike at the confluence of Pinto Creek and Wildcat Wash. However, they would not repair the dike along Campaign Creek that flows through the center of the community.

Gila County Public Works Director Steve Stratton said his crews can't be used to remove the debris from the filled in bed of Campaign Creek.

"That would be an illegal use of HURF (Highway User's Revenue Funds) money," Stratton said.

According to Hodson, Kumparak has put a small sand berm next to one of the homes he is repairing to prevent further damage.

Residents fear that the slightest amount of rain will leave them homeless.

"We had a storm in November," Hodson said. "We got 1.6 inches of rain and it was collecting in spots, but it did not start flowing. But I went outside every few minutes to check."

For more information on how to help the victims of the Roosevelt flood, contact Velma Hodson at (928) 467-2636. Cash donations can be deposited in the Roosevelt Recovery Fund at any Wells Fargo bank.

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