'Mass evacuations' lifted in Duncan, Arizona amid flooding

Evacuation orders for a small eastern Arizona town have been lifted after heavy rain overflowed the Gila River, spilling water into portions of the area.

"Mass evacuations" were ordered on Aug. 22 for Duncan, which sits in Greenlee County and is only a few miles from New Mexico near the border.

"At approximately 4:30 this morning the water levels of the Gila River reached a point where water began to spill into portions of Duncan," the Duncan Valley Rural Fire District wrote on Facebook. "Currently the water level at the bridge is 22.27’, which is classified as a major flood stage.".

Nearby communities stepped up to help Duncan residents.

Derek Rapier, the Greenlee County Administrator said, "Our first responders, our law enforcement, did an outstanding job today. The public works, the road departments. All of the people have just done an outstanding job. Even communities surrounding us for 40-50 miles have volunteered to have people come and help up as soon as the waters allow us to do so."

The evacuation was ordered for flood-prone areas lower than High Street and the Chaparral Store.

This includes:

  • East Ave.
  • 4th below the highway
  • 3rd below the highway
  • Ash St.
  • Acacia St.
  • Pecan St.
  • Main St.
  • Madison St.
  • Hobbs St.
  • Harwell St.
  • Philpott Ave.
  • Stadium St.
  • Wilson St.
  • Tyler Ln.
  • West end by the car wash
  • Cottonwood St.
  • Church St.
  • Gale Ave.

The Greenlee Fairgrounds, located at 1248 Fairgrounds Rd., was being used as an evacuation center. The corrals were open to anyone in need of moving livestock.

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) also implemented an emergency, immediate suspension of the Duncan post office, but it's since been reopened.

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Evacuation orders for Duncan, Arizona have been lifted after heavy rain overflowed the Gila River, spilling water into portions of the area. (Stan Ellis)

'It was nuts'

It was a rude awakening for Molly Conner when she saw her small town was quickly being submerged in feet of water in a matter of minutes. She says this is the first time she’s seen anything like it.

"Normally, yeah it will go over a little bit, but nothing anywhere like this," she said. "About 4:30 my phone starts blowing up saying, 'Hey, be careful. Water is coming into town."

The heavy rain caused evacuations and flooding of high school football and baseball fields. Schools in the town have since been reopened.

"All of this is from the rain up in the mountains in New Mexico and what happens is when it storms real hard up there, the rain goes through their washes and into the river, and it comes downstream and that’s when we get hit," Conner said.

Residents like Conner struggled to get through town as trucks waded through the water like boats, and Highway 70 disappeared under the water. The highway has since reopened.

"I actually got turned around and told I couldn’t go through town because of where the water was at. I actually had to go through Virden, New Mexico which is literally right there just so I could get home and they have a tiny little bridge that literally water was up to the very bottom of the bridge, and it was nuts," she said.

Gabriella Booth says she became panicked.

"It’s rained but I’ve never seen the area so flooded like this. It went really fast for me and it was really scary," she said. "It was a bit panicky for me especially being 8 months pregnant."

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Rain/flood safety tips

The American Red Cross' tips for heavy rain situations and flood safety:

  • Turn around don’t drown! If you must drive and you encounter a flooded roadway, turn around and go another way.
  • If you are caught on a flooded road and waters are rising rapidly around you, get out of the car quickly and move to higher ground.
  • Tune in to your local radio, NOAA radio, or news channels for the latest updates.
  • If your neighborhood is prone to flooding, be prepared to evacuate quickly.
  • Follow evacuation orders and do not attempt to return until officials say it is safe.
  • If power lines are down, do not step in puddles or standing water.
  • If power is out, use a flashlight. Do not use any open flame as alternate lighting.

MORE: Here's what to do after your car is flooded

Be prepared and stay safe during the monsoon

"Most Valley residents know how quickly and furiously storms can move in and out, bringing strong winds, dust, rain, and flash flooding. These storms can cause interruptions in services, such as water, power, and gas," stated Captain Ashley Losch of the Glendale Fire Department.

GFD reminds residents of ways they can be prepared and stay safe:

  • Have flashlights with extra batteries on hand.
  • Have food that can be prepared without the need for cooking or refrigeration.
  • Have at least one gallon of clean water for each person in the household.
  • Have backup power for anyone requiring power for a medical device.
  • Have backup power for cell phones that do not require charging.
  • Have a first aid kit ready and accessible.
  • Never drive into areas with flowing water; it takes less than 10 inches to wash a car away.
  • Avoid flooded areas, such as washes.
  • If waters are rising, seek higher ground.
  • Do not approach downed power lines, the ground can be energized for up to 200 feet.
  • Keep pets indoors during storms.