BELEN, N.M. (KRQE) – More cleanup continues in Belen after Tuesday night’s storm that hammered the city. Inches of rain fell in just a few hours causing the levee to breach and homes and businesses to flood. Places like Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church are filled with water and crews are hard at work Wednesday night trying to get that water out to make sure there is no damage to the foundation.
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It’s been a day of cleanup at Our Lady of Belen. “Soot, a lot of soot and sand,” Deacon Jerry Baca said. He said he noticed the flooding Wednesday morning following mass. “When we opened the door, we knew we had work to do,” Baca said.
Baca and others are cleaning the soup kitchen and old gym which are covered with dirt, mud, and water. “It was really sad to see,” Baca said.
The church said the most damage was done to the parish center. The cafeteria and gym there are filled with water. “I have been a parishioner here all my life and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it like this,” Baca said.
At the church’s memorial garden, a couple of graves are sunken in and headstones are displaced in the saturated mud. “When the canal breached, it just headed straight our way,” Baca said.
This all comes after a downpour Tuesday night that led to major flooding around town. The intense water flow caused 20 breaks along the Highline Canal levees. There was a similar breach of the Highline Canal back in 2018.
After that, state lawmakers came up with $1.7 million for a retention pond. Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova said that is still in the planning stages and will help, but it won’t solve the problem. The city has put together a bigger, more permanent plan that is more costly and will require more help from the state. “We are talking about $65 million for a diversion channel that will keep that water from hitting the Highline Canal,” Cordova said.
As they clean up the latest mess, places like Our Lady of Belen say they’re racing against the clock to prevent serious structural damage. “And put it all in God’s hands,” Baca said.
The church said they plan to have at least the soup kitchen cleaned up by the end of the week, so they can feed the homeless there like they usually do on Fridays. State lawmakers said this may also take federal help. There is no state agency that oversees flooding in that area, and some would like to create a state commission to take charge of this issue so it doesn’t all fall on the City of Belen.