Standing amidst a pile of rubble, Mark Kotas, manager of the Sleepy Hollow RV Park in Tonto Basin, points to a string of trailers toppled or sopping wet from last week’s winter storms that flooded the small park on the banks of Tonto Creek.
Sleepy Hollow is one of many RV parks impacted by the recent storms. Countless other homes and trailers were destroyed or damaged. The Roundup visited Sleepy Hollow and another RV park Wednesday to survey the damage and hear from residents who witnessed the storm firsthand.
Among the devastation at Sleepy Hollow, Kotas points out a metal trash bin that was tossed hundreds of feet through the woods. In another nearby area, a small pond, once full of beautiful koi is brown and muddy. The fish either swam out with the floodwaters or died, Kotas said he has not seen them.
A few yards from the pond, a trailer is full of mud and has an odor of wet carpet. A small plaque outside the trailer shows a veteran used to live here. Although it doesn’t look like much now, it used to be a home. Now the man’s things lay strewn about like a trash dump.
Further down the lane, park resident Jerry Robinson pulls two bicycles away from a tree. Before the storm hit, Robinson tied as many of his belongings to trees as he could. Although the bikes didn’t wash away, they are covered in leaves, branches and mud. Nonetheless, Robinson proudly points out these are nice, American-made bikes.
It is obvious these are some of his prized possessions.
Robinson didn’t have much and what he has left is all but destroyed.
His Cobra trailer flooded with several feet of water, destroying the carpet and cabinets.
Without insurance, Robinson isn’t sure what he is going to do.
“Several times a year there are RV trailer sales in Payson, but you know money is tight right now” he said, “and I don’t think I can afford to buy a new one.”
The best he can do now is clean up and hope for help.
Kotas estimates at least 15 homes in the park were damaged by floodwaters, which came quickly Thursday night, inundating the park in less than an hour.
Luckily, most everyone left for higher ground earlier Thursday night, so no one was injured.
Only a few long-timers stayed behind.
Park resident Chuck Dobson said he stayed in his home because he didn’t think the water would get high enough.
He elected to leave when he saw the water rising rapidly outside his door in the middle of the night.
Kotas said he was amazed Tonto Creek flooded when only a day earlier it was dry.
“It is mind boggling,” he said. “It was one of the worst storms ever.”
The park’s office sustained the worst damage. It was moved about 50 feet from its base.
At least 11 inches of rain fell in Tonto Basin last week, raising the lake seven vertical feet in just 24 hours, Kotas said.
The positive? The fishing in Roosevelt Lake should improve with now covered logs and trees providing additional cover for fish.
On Wednesday, FEMA toured Sleepy Hollow and several nearby parks for damage. Kotas said so far they have not received aid from FEMA, but the Red Cross is putting people up in hotels, giving away food and clothing.
With the help of neighbors, Kotas and his business partner Ron Ramey are starting the arduous clean up process.
Just a mile down the road from Sleepy Hollow, Lazy Jr RV Park resident Mick Williams, raked mud from a friend’s yard.
Williams and several other park residents were busy Wednesday cleaning up after floodwaters scattered debris throughout the park.
The park’s manager estimated 30 homes were destroyed. FEMA has yet to declare the cost of the damages.
However, as long as the damage in the area exceeds $160,000, homeowners impacted by the storm can expect to receive aid from FEMA, said Matt Bollinger, division director of Gila County Emergency Management.
Bollinger anticipates damages will far surpass $160,000.
Homeowners can report damage to their home by calling (928) 402-8888 or (800) 304-4452, extension 8888.
As of Thursday, 400 Tonto Basin residents were still trapped on the east side of the creek. Gila County has a supply center set up on the east side of the creek to deliver food, mail and medications Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The Kiwanis Club is also delivering boxes of food.
Despite the devastation, most of the residents the Roundup spoke with said they plan to stay in Tonto Basin.