Cochise, Santa Cruz counties brace for floods from Odile

Ominous clouds from Hurricane Odile hung low over Tucson, Ariz., for most of Wednesday, Sept. 17. Photo by Haleigh Powell.
Ominous-looking clouds from Hurricane Odile hung low over Tucson and the rest of southeastern Arizona for most of Wednesday, Sept. 17. Photo by Haleigh Powell.

Rainfall brought on by Hurricane Odile Wednesday afternoon is expected to drag into Thursday and some counties in southeastern Arizona are preparing for the worst.

Norm Sturm, emergency services director for Cochise County, said the National Weather Service has forecast 12 hours of heavy rain starting at about 5 p.m. Wednesday and running into early Thursday.

The main concerns, he said, included the San Pedro River, which weather experts say could surpass its flood line Wednesday night. Potential flooding throughout the Huachuca Mountains and the surrounding areas also has county officials putting up additional shelters in Sierra Vista and Bisbee.

“It’s mostly a matter of where the rain hits hard, with our main focus on those heavier bands of rain where the weather service has predicted,” Sturm said.

Nogales, Arizona, Mayor Arturo Garino, said preparations in his Santa Cruz County city began several days ago.

By Wednesday afternoon, Garino estimated the Nogales Wash was already 4 to 5 feet deep, with steady rainfall continuing throughout the day.

“It doesn’t take a hurricane to get us going here,” Garino said.

Officials prepared more than 3,000 sandbags to distribute to residents, he said, adding that he was worried about the rainfall expected Wednesday night. Runoff from Nogales-Sonora, Mexico, usually has a large impact.

“Let’s just hope it goes around us,” he said.

Though flooding seemed imminent for parts of Southeastern Arizona, some cities and towns were less worried.

Willcox, about 80 miles east of Tucson in Cochise County, saw about an hour’s worth of rainfall on Wednesday. Although the storm came down hard, the city’s Public Safety Director Glenn Childers said everything went as planned.

Willcox streets double as the city’s drainage system, Childers said, adding that everything was draining into the dry lakebed south of town. By about 4 p.m.

Wednesday, emergency personnel had responded to a single rain-related call after a driver’s car stalled in deep water on the edge of town.

“It really hasn’t affected anything here yet,” Childers said. “Everybody knows about monsoons.”

Teresa Rodarce, a manager at the Dollar General on Willcox’s Cochise Avenue, said that Wednesday’s storms were typical of the monsoon season, but that sandbags had gone up around houses in town. She added that most Willcox residents expected to lose power at some point throughout the evening.

The town of Douglas, 120 miles southeast of Tucson, also had seen a steady drizzle throughout Wednesday, but officials didn’t expect anything drastic, said Lucy Perez, the city’s director of communications.

By Wednesday afternoon, the rain had yet to cause concern in Sierra Vista.

Brian Sebastian, a Sierra Vista Police Department corporal, said that as of Wednesday afternoon it had been raining “fairly softly,” and the city had had no flooding or weather-related emergency calls.

Sebastian said officials were expecting heavier rainfall overnight, and had additional personnel to assist if needed. They also had put up barricades and signs at washes.

Emergency response staff for Cochise County is scheduled to work around the clock until the storm ends.

“We haven’t seen anything out of the ordinary yet,” Sturm said. “But we’re really concerned.”

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