ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – New Mexico residents began cleaning up and assessing the damage on Saturday after harsh flooding ruptured dams and claimed the life of at least one person.
State Police Sgt. Emmanuel Gutierrez said the body of a man was found Saturday in his partially submerged vehicle next to State Road 51 in Ash Canyon, about 150 miles from Albuquerque. Investigators believe the man died after his vehicle washed into a ravine covered in mud near the Elephant Butte dam and was washed nearly a mile off the roadway, probably Friday during the flooding, Gutierrez said.
The man’s name was not released.
The death is the first related to massive flooding in New Mexico this week from record heavy rains and overflowing rivers.
Officials said heavy rain on Friday caused the Rio Grande and nearby creeks to overflow in Sierra County – where the man was found – and forced an unknown number of residents to evacuate. The flooding also ruptured an earthen canal in Las Vegas and an aging earthen dam in southern New Mexico.
In response, Gov. Susana Martinez issued a state of emergency to open up recovery funding. The governor was scheduled to tour affected areas Saturday.
The ruptures came after parts of New Mexico saw record rainfall through the week and rivers began to overflow, causing millions of dollars in damage and small evacuations.
The canal east of Bradner Dam near the village of Los Vigiles gave in late Thursday or early Friday, which caused flooding in the city of Las Vegas and wreaked havoc throughout San Miguel County, officials said.
Las Vegas Mayor Alfonso Ortiz said repairs could take days, if not longer.
In addition, three of the four major bridges in Las Vegas – Bridge Street Bridge, Independence Street Bridge and the Mills Avenue Bridge – were closed at some point Friday. All but Bridge Street later reopened.
“It is widespread and throughout the county,” Leger said of the flooding. “We’re telling people to stay away from water courses. If you’re safe where you’re at, stay there. If you’re home, and you’re safe, stay there.”
More than two dozen homes on the Santa Clara Pueblo were ordered to evacuate. The area had been hit hard due to the Las Conchas fire in 2011, which created a burn scar and made the canyon especially vulnerable to a flood.