Image: Destroyed road
Dianne Stallings  /  The Ruidoso News via AP
This road in Ruidoso, N.M. was torn apart by the raging Ruidoso River.
updated 7/29/2008 2:33:25 PM ET 2008-07-29T18:33:25

More than 75 people stranded by massive flooding in and around this mountain resort town still awaited rescue Tuesday, but spirits rose as missing people were accounted for and the region made it through a day without rain, authorities said.

Police resolved up to five reports of missing people authorities had received Sunday as families reconnected after the chaos subsided, Ruidoso spokeswoman Darlene Hart said Tuesday. The weekend flooding, caused by the remnants of Hurricane Dolly, claimed the life of one man, a 20-year-old whose body was found Monday.

Local authorities and the National Guard have brought more than 580 people to safety since early Sunday, said Sherry Kamali, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. That figure does not include people who left their homes, cabins or campsites on their own.

With a number of bridges damaged or washed out, some 75 people remained stranded Tuesday in the Bonito Lake area north of Ruidoso and in two separate areas in town, Hart said. Ruidoso, in the south-central part of the state, is known for its ski resort and horse racing at Ruidoso Downs, and is about 185 miles south of Albuquerque.

Food drops made
Those stranded included 28 campers who have spent two extra nights outdoors at Bonito Lake. Helicopters dropped military ready-to-eat meals and water to the stranded campers Monday. But officials expect the water to be low enough Tuesday for them to safely drive out of the campground, Hart said.

"The spirit today is incredibly higher than it was Sunday and even yesterday because we didn't get rain," Hart said.

The Rio Ruidoso was still running violently, but was "considerably lower" than its peak of 12 feet during the flood, Hart said.

An estimated 350 to 500 houses, campers, mobile homes and structures were damaged in the flooding, with about 350 people evacuated from homes and up to 500 vacationers initially stranded. Thirteen bridges were washed out, and plans were under way to build temporary replacements, she said.

Though the sun was shining, residents were anxiously watching weather forecasts for the mountain community, which still could see isolated storms as New Mexico's summer monsoon season continues, Hart said.

Millions in road damage
Local officials estimated the flood has caused up to $15 million in damage to bridges and roadways, though that figure could climb, Hart said.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials were expected to arrive Tuesday and begin assessing the damage and installing portable bridges.

"Everybody that we take out, we're not going to allow back until FEMA gets here and assesses the structural damage to these homes," Hart said. "It will be days, possibly weeks, for some of them."

The displaced residents being housed in local churches and community centers have been "pulling together" to help each other and stay positive, Wanda Peacock, branch manager of Red Cross' Roswell office, said.

"Everybody is helping everybody, but I'm sure that we're going to need some mental health assistance. Some people are grieving. Some people have lost everything they own, everything," she said.

Gov. Bill Richardson has declared Lincoln County a disaster area, freeing emergency funds to help ensure public safety as well as to restore critical public services.

Much of the debris from the flooding was along the riverbank. Area businesses, including tourist stops on the main roads through town, were open for business Tuesday.

"If someone didn't tell you there was a flood and you didn't go down to the river, you'd never know," Hart said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments