A succession of thunderstorms over two weeks dumped several
feet of snow throughout northern Arizona, and the continued
ferocity of the weather has been frustrating relief efforts.
An extra foot of snow fell on the area Thursday, bringing
flood hazards as well as fog that hampered relief efforts.
One official said 25 helicopter missions were scrubbed
Friday by the bad weather.
About 100 missions had been flown in
Apache, Coconino and Navajo counties as of the end of last
week, said Eric Neitzel, spokesman for a multiagency
emergency task force based in Holbrook. Hopi tribal
officials also said they had been helping residents deal
with power outages and collapsed roofs caused by the weight
of the snow.
The federal government placed three
counties under a state of emergency shortly after the first
round of storms, freeing resources to help the Hopi and
Navajo communities. The relief flights are crucial to the
effort because they often are the only way emergency workers
can deliver supplies to homes and ranches isolated by heavy
snow or, after the fact, maddening mires of mud.
Yet bad weather has grounded three
National Guard helicopters for all or parts of three days
since the first storm hit Jan. 21. And mechanical problems
knocked a chopper out of the game Friday, not that it really
mattered. The heavy blanket of clouds and stubborn fog kept
the other two grounded.
Natalie Lynch, helicopter base manager
for Operation Winter Storm, spends her time trying to direct
helicopters loaded with relief supplies from Flagstaff to
locations where snowbound residents in the stricken
territory need help.
Lynch said some flyovers have spotted
people waving flags in desperation. Whenever and wherever
possible, supplies are dropped to tide them over until
On Friday, however, dozens of boxes of
ready-to-eat meals, or MREs, filled with chicken, spaghetti,
beef stew, pasta and vegetarian items were stacked at a
state highway yard outside Kykotsmovi, a small Hopi
community, unable to be distributed. There also were large
containers of water and blankets. All had to be covered by
tarps late in the afternoon when flights were socked in.
Relief workers planned to keep flying
this week, as long as there were people needing help.
"We were thinking we would get food out
to the people," Lynch said. "The lists are piling up. It's
beginning to be a back-order situation."
Relief personnel said Friday that they
believe the situation in Hopi country has stabilized, with
roads being cleared and people becoming self-sufficient.
Still, tribal leaders say many areas, including parts of
their villages, remain a muddy mess. Vehicles are getting
stuck, their occupants requiring rescue.
As lower elevations see conditions shift
from snow to mud, most relief efforts will shift to the
northernmost parts of the affected counties, where higher
elevations still have deep snow. In those areas, even the
typical winter-rescue hardware has, at times, been
ineffective. Deep drifts have defeated snowmobiles, and
bigger snowcats are "few and far between," Neitzel said.
The best that emergency workers can hope
for is an end to the storms and continued cool weather that
will keep the snow from melting too quickly - a factor that
would cause more mud and floods.
"We need a break in the weather - but it
can't get too warm," Neitzel said.