While Payson residents woke Friday to beautifully snow-topped trees after several inches of snow fell overnight, elsewhere around the Rim Country residents were shoveling themselves out of several feet of snow, emergency personnel were busy closing roads following several landslides and utility crews were scrambling to restore power.
Remarkably, the Department of Public Safety and the Payson Police Department reported no major accidents in the Rim Country. However, this could change with another 6 to 12 inches of snow expected in Payson.
In Pine, residents saw a foot of snow overnight Thursday, adding to a slushy base of five inches. In Payson, the ground was saturated with 3.3 inches of rain in a 24-hour period as of Friday morning, which makes up half of our total rainfall for the month.
In Tonto Basin, the Tonto Creek swelled and flooded overnight, forcing the evacuation of residents in low-lying areas on the east side of the creek. Luckily, no one in Tonto Basin needed rescue and everyone moved out before the creek flooded, reported Jeannine Cheek, public information officer with Tonto Basin Fire.
“The pre-evacuation notices worked well,” she said. “Most people headed out ahead of time.”
As a precaution, the Red Cross has a shelter at the Tonto Basin School for anyone needing a dry place to rest. The Red Cross estimates 100 residents utilized the shelter Thursday night, while the rest stayed with friends or in travel trailers.
Late Thursday night, the hillside at the repaired landslide area near Sunflower gave way, forcing the closure of the highway in both directions. Southbound traffic from Payson is being detoured at the Highway 188 junction while northbound traffic is re-routed at the Bush Highway turnoff, said Sgt. Terry Lincoln with DPS.
Lincoln said ADOT engineers are still assessing the damage but with continuing rainfall they expect to see more of the repaired hillside give way Friday.
“It is quite washed out along the southbound lanes,” she said. “There is some debris in the road, but not a lot.”
So, while the whole area has not given way, on the northbound side, the hillside is bowing out considerably and is expected to fall, Lincoln said.
Visit the Roundup’s Web site for continued updates on the slide.
Elsewhere around the state, there were reported landslides on State Route 77 and 60, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT).
In the Rim Country and into Tonto Basin, residents remain trapped in their subdivisions after floodwaters over swept crossings.
Since Thursday, the crossings at Flowing Springs, East Verde Estates and all three crossings in Tonto Basin have remained closed.
East Verde Estates resident Claire Wall said on top of being flooded in, her basement has filled with several inches of water and the power is flickering on and off.
“We are OK, it’s just right now it is a mess,” Wall said. “We are hoping and praying we don’t have a major power outage because a lot of people don’t have an alternative heating system.”
Bill Brown, who keeps nine draft horses and cattle on 19,000 leased acres near Highway 188 in Tonto Basin, said he does not expect to evacuate his property because he has higher ground for refuge.
“We are OK so far,” he said; however, as a precaution, Brown moved his horses to another pasture.
With the National Weather Service predicting more rain and snow through Saturday, Brown will not regret moving his herd to higher ground.
More snow, rain coming
Residents in northern Arizona can expect to see continued snow and rain, with streams continuing to flood through Friday.
The massive winter storm will finally let up Saturday afternoon, the NWS reports.
Residents worried about flooding can pick up sandbags free at the Gila County Maintenance Yard in Star Valley.
Despite the heavy rain on Thursday, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) filled sandbags for hours.
CERT volunteer John Swenson said he did not mind filling bags in the rain.
“We do what we can to help the community,” he said.
The series of winter storms has kept APS personnel hopping too.
Friday morning Todd Thompson, section leader for the Payson and Winslow District, said there were outages in parts of Pine and Strawberry, all of Mesa del Caballo to Washington Park and Geronimo Estates, the Haigler and Young areas, Forest Lakes and intermittent areas in the small subdivisions beneath the Rim.
Thompson said they were bringing in a crew from Phoenix and a Snow Cat from Show Low to help get the power back on as soon as possible.
“We want to keep our people safe,” he said, but access is a challenge in some places.
He was not willing to estimate how long it would take to get service restored.
Pine resident Max Foster said power went out at his home around 7 a.m. Friday. Worried that it may not come back on for hours or days, Foster was considering driving to Payson to stay in a hotel.
In Tonto Basin, Cheek reported phone service was out to residents on the west side of Tonto Creek, but there was no long-term power outages.
Matt Bollinger, division director of the Gila County Emergency Management, said an emergency operations center is open in Globe and in Star Valley at the Star Valley yard.
“In the Payson area, we will be trying out a joint command structure as the emergency develops,” Bollinger said. “We are in hopes that this team effort will speed our response and recovery to help the residents through this time.”
In Tonto Basin, an emergency assistance center will be opened on the east side of Tonto Creek from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday to deliver mail, groceries and medications.
The center will be at the Tonto Basin Fire Annex on Elm Street.
DPS and ADOT have placed restrictions on the following highways as of Friday morning:
• Highway 87 is closed at Fossil Creek (milepost 270, between Pine and Strawberry).
• State Route 260 is closed west of Camp Verde.
• State Route 260 is restricted to vehicles with four-wheel drive or chains between Payson and Heber.
• Highway 60 is closed from Globe to Show Low. The highway is also closed in the city of Miami.
• State Route 77 in between Superior and Kearny is closed due to a rockslide blocking both lanes. Several semi-trucks were stuck with no way to turn around.
• State Route 74 is closed from Interstate 17 to Highway 60.
• Highway 60 at Wenden is closed due to flooding.
• Highway 60 is closed in both directions from Show Low to State Route 73 junction due to a rockslide at milepost 321.
• Interstate 17 is open at Table Mesa. Interstate 17 remains closed at milepost 298 (Sedona exit).
• State Route 260 is closed due to snow from McNary to Greer.
• State Route 273 at milepost 385 closed to Sunrise.
• Interstate 40, Highway 180 and Interstate 17 are closed as well as State Route 89A from Flagstaff to Sedona.
There are no predictions when the roads will open.