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Hundreds in northern Arizona are facing flooding


Hundreds of people in northern Arizona are scrambling to protect their homes from flooding - this even as the state bakes in the summer heat like Texas and remains in a historic drought. But rain is falling in the mountains, washing off fresh wildfire burn scars and flooding homes. Michel Marizco with member station KJZZ reports.


MICHEL MARIZCO, BYLINE: Alex Jacobs and his family laid dozens of wet and heavy sand bags on top of a foot of sticky mud covering their driveway so they can still get out. He's downstream of a culvert that is overwhelmed and pumping out ooze black with ash every time it rains. It's their only solution.

ALEX JACOBS: And if we cleaned it out, it would just fill up again. So that's it.

MARIZCO: Storm clouds were already gathering this morning, signaling another flood threat day. Flagstaff is a popular college and ski town high in Arizona's pine tree country. This year, those trees burned in two severe wildfires that broke the mountain's peace with the city. Usually rain can wend down through natural channels and streams. The fires burned away those watersheds. And for the last month, when rain has fallen on those burn scars, nothing holds the waters back.


MARIZCO: In June, the pipeline fire devastated areas that burned a dozen years ago and then destroyed new segments of forest.

LUCINDA ANDREANI: This house got flooded on the interior.

MARIZCO: Lucinda Andreani, the county's flood control district administrator, drives through a subdivision at the base of the peak's eastern slopes. It was the first community to flood this year.

ANDREANI: You can see they've cut out the drywall.

MARIZCO: Flood surged against the home, then through it. Culverts are overrun everywhere. Rail fences are collapsed under the weight of mud.


MARIZCO: Heavy equipment is all over town, clearing out retention basins from fresh ash and mud before the next rain. County officials are racing to add two-ton concrete barricades called Jersey barriers at the most vulnerable homes. National Guard soldiers, prison inmates, firefighting crews and masses of volunteers are all filling sandbags. Nearly 1 million are needed. Paul Foxx stood outside a neighbor's home as the waters filled the culverts and began to flood the road Saturday afternoon.

PAUL FOXX: Our house almost flooded. We had a couple of neighbors who actually - these guys, these guys, a handful of neighbors grabbed some sandbags and, you know, added a couple rows. So we had three last time, and they went over that. So...

MARIZCO: Last week 18 inches of water surged over many properties here.

FOXX: It could have been a lot worse.

MARIZCO: The forecast is for monsoon rains all week. So busy, muddy people keep stacking sandbags, watching the skies and worrying. Officials say these floods will continue until artificial watersheds are built in the forest or nature restores them in a generation. For NPR News, I'm Michel Marizco in Flagstaff.


Michel Marizco
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