A sudden downpour dumped nearly two inches of rain on parts of Nogales early Tuesday afternoon, filling streets with massive puddles and turning one end of Western Avenue into a foot-deep river of rushing floodwater.
The rainstorm hit the city at around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, accompanied by high winds and thunder and lightning. Power was knocked out in some parts of town.
On Western Avenue, often a trouble spot for flooding, a rushing torrent of floodwater overflowed the wash just below Leyva Bridge, near the intersection with Interstate 19.
Maria Lopez, who lives in the neighborhood, was driving home from her job as a caregiver in the midst of the flooding.
She said she got frightened when the water surrounded her car and started to shake it. But she managed to reach her home, off Western Avenue just west of the bridge, and was relieved to see that the water hadn’t gotten inside.
“The scare has passed,” she said after the rain had tapered off and the flooding subsided.
While a number of surrounding yards and patios were inundated, the flooding didn’t appear to have caused major property damage, as has happened there in the past.
Still, the experience was alarming for some local residents. A woman who stood outside her mobile home on the south side of Western Avenue, looking at her waterlogged yard, began to cry when asked about the flooding.
The Origel family home, on the south side of Western at Leyva Bridge, was one of the residences that was seriously damaged by flooding in 2014. Rene Origel, 18, was there on Tuesday when the flooding hit – this time sparing the home.
“I got a little bit nervous, but not as much as I used to get before,” she said.
A year after the 2014 flood, a contractor hired by the Santa Cruz County Flood Control District built a rock embankment along the wash immediately west of Leyva Bridge to keep floodwaters from spilling out. Origel said she thought the walls may have helped protect her family’s home on Tuesday, but she said another issue is the accumulation of debris, which can clog the culverts under the bridge and force the water into the street and onto nearby properties.
Workers from the city came a few weeks earlier to clean out the waterway, but Origel said her father had also brought someone in to remove debris.
On Tuesday, the problem was the volume of water rushing down the wash, which at times became too great for the relatively narrow waterway below the bridge.
In recent years, the county has talked of building a retention basin in Ephraim Canyon behind Carondelet Holy Cross Hospital, which would help contain floodwater before it rushes down the Western Avenue wash. Floodplain Coordinator John Hays said on Wednesday that they’re still waiting for final word from the federal government on the grant application to fund the project. In an email, he said it’s his understanding that a decision on the grant could come in late September or during October.
The floodwaters that plague Western Avenue come from areas other than Ephraim Canyon as well. A reader submitted a video taken from her home on Hughes Street, just north of Western Avenue, showing a fast moving river of water pouring past her house and through her patio on Tuesday. She said water didn't get into her house on this occasion, though it had on two prior instances.
That water comes from an arroyo running southeast from the interstate, and which passes through a narrow channel between two homes on Hughes.
A little farther to the north, floodwaters nearly dragged away a City of Nogales vehicle on Industrial Park Drive near the intersection with Bell Road, but the SUV was towed away from danger.
Nogales Fire Department Chief Jeff Sargent said the department had received a call about a tree that fell at an apartment on Elm Street in downtown Nogales, but nobody was hurt.
By 2:30 p.m., the rain had subsided and first responders were stationed at bridges over the Nogales Wash after receiving reports that people might have gotten swept into the wash in Nogales, Sonora.
Sargent and Nogales Police Department Chief Roy Bermudez said at around 3:30 p.m. that they hadn’t received any reports of injuries related to the rains and flooding.
Rain gauges operated by the Santa Cruz County Flood Control District measured 1.73 inches of rain from the storm at Ephraim Canyon Wash and Interstate 19 – just above Western Avenue. A gauge near the Mariposa Port of Entry registered 1.65 inches, while Hohokam Drive saw just less than an inch.
In Nogales, Sonora, images and videos posted to social media showed wrecked cars in the aftermath of flooding there. Local media reported that a woman died after her car was swept away by the current at 5 de Febrero and Padre Nacho on the west side of the city, about a mile south of the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry. The car came to rest upside down under a bridge.