Widespread storms an "eerie anniversary reminder" of 2006 flooding


POSTED: Friday, August 1, 2014 - 9:07pm

UPDATED: Friday, August 1, 2014 - 10:33pm

Rain swept over the entire Borderland region Friday, exactly eight years after torrential downpours with similar weather patterns flooded the area on August 1, 2006.

The heavy rainfall and flash floods in 2006 caused about $450 million in damage, according to figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); washed away portions of the Blockbuster store in West El Paso, along with other businesses and homes in surrounding areas; transformed roads into what drivers described as "rushing rivers"; and now, bears a striking resemblance to the storm system National Weather Service meteorologists saw in El Paso on August 1, 2014.

"It's eerie that we have this scenario on the anniversary," said John Fausett, a longtime NWS meteorologist based in Santa Teresa, N.M. who specializes in evaluating hazardous weather situations and coordinating warnings for the public.

He gave NewsChannel 9 an inside look at their live weather tracking system and explained how computer imaging revealed moisture conditions, storm breadth and runoff patterns reminiscent of 2006.

"There's potential for things to happen that will make people think... 'Is this going to be like August 1, 2006?'"

Reese Kaplan, a consultant and IT project manager who moved to El Paso shortly before flooding devastated the region eight years ago, certainly hopes not.

"It was just so crazy," he said.

"I remember on the west side, the Blockbuster having its roof collapse... seeing a dumpster floating in the shopping area with [parts of it] going through the glass window... cars stranded all over the place."

Kaplan considered himself "very fortunate" to have avoided major property damage and only had to deal with his pool overflowing, but the Arvizu family, who lived several miles away, also in West El Paso, wasn't that lucky.

"I remember a wall in the back of our house completely coming apart during the storm," said Hannah Arvizu, a college student in Tucson who was in middle school at the time.

"I'll never forget it. My brother and sister and I couldn't go anywhere for days. My parents were renting the house from my uncle, but we moved [not too long] after that."

Reports from insurance companies show hundreds of other El Pasoans filed similar property damage claims that summer. City officials estimate as many as 300 homes were destroyed.

"We're doing everything to make sure our residents are prepared if we see anything that bad again," said Jesus Ruiz, the mayor of Socorro.

His constituents often face the most severe flooding in the Borderland because of the way runoff drains from higher elevations; and according to Ruiz, it's worse now than it was in 2006.

"It's great that El Paso and the surrounding area have developed so much the past few years. But it has made flooding more of a concern. Where there used to be desert sand that absorbed a lot of rainwater and slowed runoff accumulation, there's now pavement that's making water travel faster into Socorro."

He called it a "man-made problem" but said he's confident there's also a man-made solution.

"We're pumping out sandbags and they're free for all our residents. They don't have to bring their own bags or scoop sand themselves [the way people are asked to in other cities]. Our sandbags are all pre-filled, pre-tied and ready to go."

Fausett said protecting homes from flooding shouldn't be El Pasoans' only concern this weekend, as thunderstorms "comparable in several ways to [what we saw in] August 2006" approach the area.

"The primary danger is for motorists. People need to stay off the roads if they can and drivers need to understand that driving on roads with any amount of water can be deadly."

The flash floods eight years ago were responsible for at least one fatal car accident in El Paso, according to Fausett.

Fortunately, despite similarities in moisture condition and storm breadth, he doesn't expect this weekend's flooding to be as severe as what the Borderland experienced in 2006.

"It could affect an area as large as eight years ago, but I'm thinking this 'anniversary storm' is going to be closer to what we saw last September - not a repeat of August 1, 2006."

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