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President authorizes disaster aid for New Mexico floods

Local officials say significant rains over the last two months saturated soils and were instrumental in increasing runoff and flood waters associated with September's tropical storms.

Another round of federal aid is on its way to New Mexico, disaster funds approved by President Obama to provide relief from widespread damages after the state was hit by another round of severe storms and flooding in September.

This week White House officials announced the President had signed a disaster declaration making federal recovery funds available after Gov. Susana Martinez made the official request last month after large areas of the state suffered serious damages from flooding during the weeks of Sept. 15 and Sept. 22.

Flooding was spawned by storms associated with the remnants of Hurricane Odile, the strongest hurricane of record to landfall in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur, which aggravated a moisture-laden atmosphere affecting many areas across New Mexico, and eventually moving into the Panhandle and western counties of Texas.

The disaster declaration includes areas in New Mexico that were hit the hardest, including Colfax, Eddy, Lea, Lincoln, Otero, San Miguel, Santa Fe and Sierra counties, where infrastructure like roads and bridges suffered severe damage.

Near-record flooding swamped parts of Carlsbad, New Mexico, with up to four feet of water. Street flooding was also reported in Las Cruces and Silver City as well as rural areas across several counties. Rainfall amounts ranging from 1 inch to 6 inches were reported in several locations that were hit hardest.

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Local officials say significant rains over the last two months saturated soils and were instrumental in increasing runoff and flood waters associated with September's tropical storms. Typical of tropical cyclones tracking near or over the Baja peninsula, deep tropical moisture on the eastern flank of Odile's circulation surged into the U.S. Southwest bringing heavy rainfall and flash flooding across parts of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Texas. By the time remnants of the system reached New Mexico, a low pressure system tracking out of Canada provided the catalyst to open up the clouds as thunderstorms formed and reformed across the state for several days.

Heavy rainfall

Estimates from NOAA's Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service indicated that parts of Eddy and Lea counties in New Mexico and Loving, Reeves and Culberson counties in Texas received 10 to 20 inches of rain from Sept. 15-22.

In Eddy County, New Mexico, an oilfield worker was found dead after his vehicle was trapped by floodwaters. New Mexico National Guardsmen were dispatched by Gov. Martinez to help extract at least 50 oil field workers from flood waters near White City.

Eddy County officials say much of the damage caused by heavy floods there occurred in rural areas where roads and bridges suffered serious damages and on tribal lands where many residents were stranded for several days with no access to relief or rescue.

Federal funding is now available to state, tribal, and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe storms and flooding, especially in counties where the most serious flood damages occurred.

Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

W. Craig Fugate, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Nancy M. Casper as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area. FEMA said additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments.

Following is a summary of key federal disaster aid programs that can be made available "as needed and warranted" under President Obama's disaster declaration.

Assistance for the State, Tribal and Affected Local Governments Can Include:

  • Payment of not less than 75 percent of the eligible costs for debris removal and emergency protective measures taken to save lives and protect property and public health. 
  • Emergency protective measures assistance is available to state and eligible tribal and local governments on a cost-sharing basis.
  • Payment of not less than 75 percent of the eligible costs for repairing or replacing damaged public facilities, such as roads, bridges, utilities, buildings, schools, recreational areas, and similar publicly owned property, as well as certain private non-profit organizations engaged in community service activities.
  • Payment of not more than 75 percent of the approved costs for hazard mitigation projects undertaken by state, tribal, and local governments to prevent or reduce long-term risk to life and property from natural or technological disasters.  (Source: FEMA funded, state administered.)

Application procedures for state, tribal and local governments will be explained at a series of federal/state applicant briefings with locations to be announced in the affected area by recovery officials. Approved public repair projects are paid through the state from funding provided by FEMA and other participating federal agencies.

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