Toppling trees, flooding creeks, sliding hillsides and overcorrecting motorists kept every emergency agency hustling this weekend to keep up with one disaster after another.
Tonto Basin was the hub of the most action as emergency crews gathered up wayward propane tanks, shuttled food and medication to trapped residents on the east side of Tonto Creek and manned an evacuation center at the Tonto Basin school.
On Thursday night, the Gila County Sheriff’s Office asked residents in low lying areas to leave their homes and some residents on the east side were moved to safety by the county’s boat.
Thursday night some 75 Tonto Basin residents took refuge at the school’s shelter, but by Friday night, only nine needed the help. The following night, only one evacuee showed up, so by Sunday, the Red Cross closed the shelter along with another shelter in the Payson High School gym, where only one resident needed a warm bed, said Tracy Kiest with the Red Cross.
“We are still on alert with the next storm coming in tomorrow,” Kiest warned.
Another agency still on high alert is APS.
Todd Thompson, section leader with APS, said Monday morning that he still has several crews out restoring pockets of power throughout the Rim Country.
Linemen from Payson, Phoenix and Snowflake were working in See Canyon, Ponderosa Springs and Geronimo Estates where several fallen trees knocked out power.
Thompson said he hoped to have power restored by Monday afternoon.
Over the weekend, crews worked tirelessly to restore service to Pine-Strawberry where residents were without power from 14 to 48 hours in some places.
As soon as crews managed to correct damage to one section of line, another tree would fall, knocking out power again, Thompson explained.
“By the time we would get them on, it would go off again,” he said.
APS used a helicopter to search for fallen trees through the Rim Country. Thompson said it is faster and more effective to search by air than on foot.
APS lineman unsung heroes
Pine resident Elaine Putnam said APS linemen are the unsung heroes of Rim Country.
After her power started going on and off Friday, she learned that an additional crew from Phoenix was brought in to get the power on because the Payson crew had already worked 16 hours in the snow to restore power.
“We are all so accustomed to having power that we overlook what it takes to provide it to us,” she said. “Can you imagine working out in that storm and they tried all night long? We take it for granted our power situation.”
Crews with the Hellsgate Fire Department, the Gila County Sheriff’s Office and Department of Public Safety were also kept busy around the clock over the weekend.
Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch said firefighters delivered hundreds of sandbags to Tonto Village and Christopher Creek residents whose houses were under several inches of water.
Lots of sandbags
Crews placed 140 sandbags around one house in Tonto Village that was threatened by floodwater.
“We were able to slow it down but we could not stop it,” Hatch said of the floodwater. “It was a miserable night.”
On Saturday, crews placed more bags around Janet Snyder’s house after she got several inches of water in her kitchen.
“Hellsgate firefighters were kind enough to bring in sandbags to us,” she said.
On top of wading through water in her kitchen, Snyder reported she was out of power for much of the weekend. Snyder managed to keep her telephone service after Bob Halenar braved the storm and refilled Snyder’s and several others’ generators with gas.
Without him, “we would not have had phone service until the repairmen could get to the sub station,” she said.
Residents and CERT volunteers picked up another 800 sandbags at the fire station for more houses.
Snow melt could cause problems
Snyder warned, “we are not out of the woods yet, all this snow will be melting, besides all the water that is still under the snow will be running.”
On Friday, Hatch and several firefighters rescued an elderly couple trapped in their Thompson Draw One home without power.
Because the snow was so deep, Hatch hiked to the couple’s home and carried their luggage out. He then safely escorted them out.
Hatch said he is carefully monitoring three families still stuck in the Ellison Creek summer homes subdivision who have been without water and power for four days.
“We are on standby to get them out,” he said. For the time being, the families have managed to hunker down and share food and water supplies.
On the accident front, Hatch said there were quite a few rollovers and slide-offs, but no major injuries reported.
Thursday night, five young adults from Payson were mildly injured when their Chevy extended cab pickup took a nose dive into Houston Creek, across from Pete’s Place in Star Valley.
The driver told emergency personnel he was driving eastbound when the truck hydroplaned. The truck was sent careening off the bridge and was pushed up underneath it by floodwaters.
By the time firefighters arrived, two teenage girls and three men in there 20s had gotten out safely. One man ran off before authorities arrived. The driver was arrested for DUI, Hatch said.
In Star Valley, several Quail Hollow subdivision residents were concerned their homes would flood after a meadow off Quail Hollow Drive flooded. Luckily, no homes were flooded, with floodwaters only entering some garages.
While Red Cross volunteer Kathleen Kelly’s garage was not flooded, several trees fell on her home, three days in a row.
Trees fall on home
On Friday, a 40-foot pine tipped over in Kelly’s yard, landing on the side of her home.
On Saturday, a second pine fell against the house, baffling Kelly, who has seen nearly every type of disaster.
“What are the odds that a second tree would fall on my house!” she said. “The sky is falling.” Then on Sunday, another pine fell on top of her chicken coop.
Luckily, Kelly has dependable neighbors and friends.
After each tree falling, several people including Mike Shabot rushed to her aid and began the dangerous job of removing the trees.
“People are so wonderful,” she said. “Neighbors and friends came right away and worked all day to get the house stabilized. The wonderful thing is people up here take care of each other.”
Kelly is keeping Shabot’s phone number on speed dial because another tree looks like it will also fall soon.
Landslide on Highway 87
Thursday night, ADOT closed Highway 87 between Payson and Phoenix after several rocks fell into the northbound lanes near the repaired landslide area.
Crews quickly cleared the debris away, but ADOT decided to close the road so engineers could determine if more of the hillside would collapse, said Bill Pederson with ADOT.
Pederson said there was no indication the hillside near the southbound lanes would give way.
Engineers are still studying the effects of the recent rainfall and Pederson expects crews will further stabilize the hill.
“We are going to have to do more work,” he said. “With geo technical issues it can be difficult to determine what has happened because it is happening under the surface of the earth.”
Highway 87 along with the bulk of state highways were reopened by Monday.