28 January 2010
(CNN) — A bulldozer operator driving along a
quiet, snow-covered road inside the Navajo Nation territory in
northeast Arizona in recent days saw an unexpected pathway on a
He soon discovered a mother and her two
children making their way toward him, after struggling for nearly
a mile through deep snow that had trapped them inside their home
for at least two days.
The driver gave them food and water and called
for help. The trio was picked up by a rescue helicopter, said Eric
Neitzel with the Arizona Division of Emergency Management.
A bevy of emergency teams and equipment has
been on an urgent relief mission since January 21, when a major
storm hit the Navajo Nation and the much-smaller Hopi Reservation
that it surrounds.
The snowfall is forecast to taper off Thursday
night and Friday, Neitzel said. However, officials expect the
relief effort to continue until Sunday or Monday.
As much as an additional foot of snow fell
overnight in places like Tuba City, Arizona, Neitzel said,
prompting air drops of more Red Cross blankets and 4,000
deliveries of food. The blankets are delivered to distribution
points, where they are picked up by one of four Army National
The National Weather Service said Sunrise
Mountain had 10 inches of snow overnight.
A rancher near Tuba City reported he was having
trouble getting food for his sheep, and his horses and sheep are
having a hard time moving in the snow, leaving them open to
potential attacks by cougars, Neitzel said.
The reservations, with rugged terrain and
altitudes of more than 7,000 feet, are buried in up to 8 feet of
snow, Neitzel said, and many of the Native Americans live on the
mountainsides, where many homes are nearly impossible to see from
The snow has caused collapsed roofs and has
stranded people in their homes.
Native Americans have been using mirrors and
other bright items to signal that they need air drops of food,
water and medicine.
As the ravages of the falling and blowing snow
continue, there are new missions for the planning center in
Holbrook, where Neitzel is based.
"People are starting to be noticed missing" by
neighbors and relatives who are worried because they haven't seen
someone, he said. There also are more calls for paramedics to
bring people to hospitals, said Neitzel. A medivac helicopter from
the National Park Service at the Grand Canyon is on standby.
Neitzel said this is the most extensive aid
effort he can recall. In 2005, 4 feet of snow fell on just one
portion of the reservations, but no airlift was needed. Last year,
a thaw caused serious flooding, but the local residents handled
the problem, he said.
Last week's storm dumped 54.2 inches of snow on
Flagstaff in the seven days ending Sunday, causing President Obama
to declare a state of emergency in Arizona.
That's the most snow for the college town since
84.6 inches fell in 1967, according to the National Weather