About 200 visitors were stuck at Carlsbad Caverns National Park for up to nine ours Saturday when heavy rains flooded the roads in and out of the park which was evacuated.
Flood waters were reported nearly 20 feet deep along the park’s main road, per a news release from the National Park Service.
Heavy rains fell on Eddy County Saturday as 1.02 inches of rain were reported at an automated weather site near the Caverns, said Greg Murdoch, senior forecaster, with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Midland, Texas.
Thunderstorms increased at about 2 p.m. at the park as rangers evacuated visitors and closed inbound traffic, read a news release from Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
NWS notified park officials nearly 30 minutes later as flash flooding impacted Walnut Canyon Desert Drive, the only access to the visitor center and the park, the press release stated.
After 3 p.m. flood waters rose in Walnut Canyon wash and flowed over the park road around 3:15 p.m. as the remaining visitors and park staff were ordered to shelter in place at the visitor center until water receded and debris was cleared hours later, according to the news release.
NPS rangers kept visitors updated with the latest weather conditions and provided programs and activities to keep visitors occupied until the road reopened, per the release.
Water crossings were monitored by Eddy County Fire and Rescue (ECFR) and New Mexico State Police ensuring safety along the road.
Visitors and staff were evacuated from the park at about midnight, the release stated.
“The Walnut Canyon Desert Drive is temporarily closed due to the high risk of flash flooding and poor road conditions from recent rain. The road will remain closed until conditions improve,” read Carlsbad Caverns website.
Flood warnings issued along parts of Pecos River
Murdoch said a slow-moving eastern weather system formed in the middle portions of the atmosphere helped drag in summer monsoon moisture into Eddy County causing the heavy rains and flooding Saturday.
NWS forecasted a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms around Carlsbad Monday afternoon.
Water levels along the Pecos River rose Monday in Chaves County as NWS in Albuquerque issued two warnings for two locations east and south of Roswell.
The first flood warning was in affect until late Tuesday morning near Acme, a town about 17 miles northeast of Roswell..
River levels reached 14.6 feet Monday morning and the river was predicted to fall below flood stage Monday night.
The second warning was issued until further notice for the river near Lake Arthur, 30 minutes south of Roswell, as water rose to 8.9 feet as of 7:15 a.m. Monday, read NWS data.
Flood stage is 20 feet and forecasts slated flood waters at 22 feet. The river crested at 22 feet in 1941.
Water levels were slated to fall below flood stage Tuesday afternoon.
As the water moves south toward Artesia, NWS forecasted minor flooding from Tuesday evening to late Wednesday morning as water levels were at 9.5 feet Monday morning.
Flood stage along the river was 12.5 feet and late Tuesday morning NWS predicted flood waters to peak at 12.8 feet.
When levels hit 12 feet, water reaches the banks and flooding occurs on the nearby flood plain and river width increases to nearly one mile.
“Minor flooding of low-lying areas occurs, but no significant damage is expected,” per an NWS website notice.
Structures at Wilbanks Trucking located east of the river along U.S. highway 82 would receive some flood water.
Flood waters should decrease as the week continues. The last time the river crested was 11.5 feet on July 18, 1991, according to NWS.
Stranded motorists rescued in Eddy and Chaves counties
Eddy County Office of Emergency Management Director Jennifer Armendariz said Eddy County Fire and Rescue (ECFR), Eddy County Sheriff’s Office along with the City of Carlsbad Fire Department kept track of the weather Saturday.
“It was pretty crazy. It was a non-stop event,” she said.
ECFR rescued a family from a stranded vehicle at 1254 Dark Canyon Road at about 3:20 p.m., per records from the Regional Emergency Dispatch Authority (REDA).
Armendariz said ECFR and City of Carlsbad Fire personnel searched for the vehicle Monday morning.
North of Artesia Sunday morning personnel from the Dexter Fire and Rescue, Hagerman Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Chaves County Sheriff’s Office, Dexter Police Department and Hagerman Police Department rescued a man from raging waters in the Felix River, wrote Dexter Fire Chief Justin Powell in a Facebook post.
“The calling party was on the roof of his vehicle and uninjured but still floating down stream. The vehicle had entered the Felix River crossing on Cherokee Road, between Dexter and Hagerman, and was quickly overtaken by the fast-moving water,” he wrote on social media.
The unidentified man was rescued and checked by emergency personnel and refused transport to area hospitals.
“This is the second time we have had such incidents happen in the same crossing. These crossings (and all others) are extremely dangerous when they are running with flood waters. There are barricades up for reasons (most of the time), so we don’t have incidents like this. These are very dangerous to both the public and rescuers,” Powell noted.
City of Carlsbad Spokesperson Kyle Marksteiner said severe flooding was not reported in Carlsbad Saturday and the low water crossing on Hidalgo Road was closed from the heavy rains.
He said Hidalgo Road was open as of Monday morning.
Eddy County closed seven roads due to the flooding.
Eddy County Public Works Director Jason Burns said Dark Canyon Road was still closed as of Monday morning as crews were checking the other roads.
Carlsbad’s Cavern City Air Terminal received 1.04 inches of rain Friday and Saturday, said David Houk, senior meteorologist of the Pennsylvania based AccuWeather forecast service.
He said rainfall at Carlsbad’s airport was slightly above average for August. Normal rainfall was 1.03 inches, and 1.17 inches was reported after the weekend rains.