Flooding Strands Tonto Basin

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Residents in Tonto Basin trying to get to work this week were out of luck unless they had a boat or a high clearance four-wheel drive vehicle.

Monsoon rains flooded Tonto Creek and created a small river over the road.

"We've had the road closed for several days and will keep it closed for the time being," said Mariano Gonzalez, deputy director for emergency management.

The closed road is the access between the two sides of Tonto Creek in the Tonto Basin area. It has stranded residents, but Gonzalez said so far there have not been that many calls for service.

"Someone called the sheriff's office about a car being stuck, but by the time they arrived the car was out," Gonzalez said.

The flood is not the rapidly rising kind that took lives last year.

"There is a daily cycle of high and low flows," Gonzalez said.

The flows coincide with the rain at higher elevations and are being carefully monitored, he said.

"Our road foreman out there, Lonnie Cline, knows the area well. He is the first one I call to keep up to date," Gonzalez said. He said the county bases its decisions on when to close Tonto Basin roads on Cline's recommendations.

Homes on the far side of the creek lost power for about eight hours at one point and phone service went out as well.

Norma Cline, manager of the Butcher Hook Store, said there are still people crossing the creek in spite of the barriers.

"It takes four-wheel drive," she said. Cline said the water is not high enough for the community to make use of the "New G.I." -- a special military vehicle the Tonto Apache Tribe helped purchase to replace a World War II unit that had been used for years to get children and others across the flooded creek to attend school and go to work.

The closure is hurting business, she said. "Every time the crossing is closed business slows down."

Carol Prosceno is one of the Tonto Basin residents stranded on one side of the creek with her home inaccessible on the other side.

"I was prepared last winter," she said. "I had a heater in my van. But I work graveyard shift and don't get to see weather. So, I didn't know anything about this."

She made it across the creek on Sunday, but saw the water was rising and muddy. Driving into work she said, "I saw a whole mess going down Slate Creek, water and trees. I just barely missed it."

Prosceno could not get home until Wednesday when she was able to get a ride with a friend.

"I loaded up my truck with my furniture, clothes and pets," she said. Crossing the creek again, the force of the water almost caused her to lose control of her truck.

"I have what I need, but I'm still living out of my vehicle," Prosceno said.

District One Congressman Rick Renzi has worked to secure funding to study and plan for a bridge over Tonto Creek. The project is still in the planning stages.

-- To reach Teresa McQuerrey call 474-5251 ext. 113 or e-mail tmcquerrey@payson.com.

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