NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Summer monsoons can bring massive rain and torrential flooding in Southern New Mexico. Recently the residents of Carlsbad, Silver City, and Ruidoso have seen devastating reminders of the dangers of floodwater – but it’s not the first time.
Carlsbad: No stranger to flash flooding
On August 21, 2022 tourists at Carlsbad Caverns National Park had to be evacuated as flooding made roads impassable. Current-Argus reported that 1.02 inches of rain fell the day before, creating dangerous conditions.
But this isn’t the first time the caverns have seen big downpours. In fact, in 1965 the park saw over three inches of rain in a single hour.
The United States Geological Survey reports that the resulting flooding primarily damaged crops in the area. But “many automobiles became stalled or were washed off roads at various crossings,” a report says. One woman was reported dead after her car was swept off the road.
Silver City: A history of destruction
Heavy floods recently forced the New Mexico Department of Transportation to close a portion of Highway 180 near Silver City, New Mexico. And in the last decade, KRQE News 13 has reported several flood-related deaths in Silver City, including two deaths in 2017.
Here again, history reveals that Silver City has been grappling with floods for more than 100 years. In fact, one of the worst floods was in 1895.
On July 21 of 1895, a massive flood ripped through the city. In the Silver City Enterprise, it was described as “an immense wave 12 feet in height and 300 feet in width, carrying with it everything movable in its path.”
The New York Times reported that “half of the business portion of the city” was washed away. But newspapers also reported that the city rebuilt quickly. “
The streets of Silver City are in almost as good of repair as before the flood,” one newspaper reported about two months after the flood. “Any person looking upon their wrecked condition immediately after the great disaster of July 21, would not have believed it possible to bring about so desirable a change in so short time.”
Eventually, the city decided to let floodwaters flow through the city. Where water had cut through the former Main Street, they simply built a bridge and left the gully as the “Big Ditch,” according to a historical marker.
Ruidoso: Repeated rebuilding proves New Mexicans are resilient
Recent rainfall in Ruidoso has prompted officials to offer warnings to the public: When driving on potentially flooded roads, “make sure to pay attention to where you’re going, where you’re driving; if there’s water across the road, don’t cross it. You could get swept away,” Ruidoso Fire Chief Joe Kasuboski said. That’s because, of course, Ruidoso has a history of deadly floods.
One of the big floods came in 2008. It was the result of the tail end of Hurricane Dolly, which tore through Texas, according to Ruidoso News.
The flooding reportedly stranded campers and homeowners, along with leading to the death of one man. And many properties and bridges were heavily damaged.
In fact, even eight years after the flood, the Federal Government was still funding repairs. KRQE News 13 reported that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) laid out more than $1 million to repair a heavily damaged bridge.
A monsoon flood in 2006 also prompted a federal response. That year, floods damaged the footing of a two-lane bridge that provided access to thousands of homes, according to a FEMA case study. “The only thing holding the bridge [together] was the concrete on top of it,” J.R. Baumann, the street director for the Village of Ruidoso, said at the time.
The city decided to rebuild the bridge better than before. The idea, FEMA says, was to not just try to repair the bridge, but to create structures that are more resilient to flooding. After all, history shows that flooding in Southern New Mexico is just an unfortunate fact of life.