Tonto Residents Run To Higher Ground

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Last week, the people of the communities north of Roosevelt Lake were hit hard when pouring rains flooded some homes and left more than 600 residents on the east side of Tonto Creek stranded.

People living on the east side are usually able to drive across the creek to town on Highway 188.

Although the creek level is still too high to cross, Gila County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Tom Melcher said they are not expecting flooding like last week. The sheriff's department has been operating a command center since that time with rescues or evacuations.

"As of (Monday) we will be breaking down the emergency services command post in Tonto Basin," Melcher said.

The command post was operating because of a threat of warm rain melting the snow up river this past weekend. That rain never came.

"We had so much snow on the water shed, if the heavy warm rain had arrived, we would have had some really heavy flows -- flooding like we haven't seen in a long time," Melcher said. "But it never materialized. We are watching the storm coming in and it is indicating a couple of inches of moisture, but much of the snow has already melted which really helps the situation."

Melcher said the water level in Tonto Creek may go up, but it doesn't mean there will be flooding.

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Payson area Boy Scouts assist residents in Tonto Basin as they prepare for another round of storms that could produce significant rain and flooding.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Tonto Creek is currently running at 361 cubic feet per second, ten times the average rate.

"On Jan. 3, it peaked at a little over 50,000 (cubic feet per second)," Melcher said. "But 361 is still not a fun thing."

While residents on the east side are stranded, some people on the west side also suffered losses due to the flooding last week.

Tonto Creek resident Iris Robbins said the water level rose above the foundation of her house.

"Think about everything in your home that would be covered by 2 feet of water -- that's what we lost," said Robbins. "We had to empty the entire house and rip out the carpet. We're moving into an apartment that someone has graciously offered, otherwise we would be staying at the shelter."

Melcher said two GCSO deputies are stationed in the Tonto Basin area, along with two six-wheel-drive military trucks that are being used to deliver supplies across Tonto Creek. An Army Blackhawk helicopter has also been dropping supplies off on the east side.

"We have been transporting medications and things people need to the east side," Melcher said.

Brenda Straw is a longtime resident of the east side of Tonto Creek and said there is no telling when she and others will be able to drive across.

"We've got this other storm coming now," Straw said. "It's hard to tell when we will be able to cross again. We have had deliveries of supplies and medicine. Now we are just waiting for our mail to be brought over."

Two other military trucks are stationed in Young and Deer Creek in case of flooding there, Melcher said.

While major flooding is not expected, Melcher said should anything happen, the sheriff's office will be mobilized to deal with it.

The National Weather Service in Flagstaff is forecasting a break in the weather pattern responsible for the series of storms by Wednesday.

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