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Governor tours Gila Bend flood damage, offers promise of support

Posted at 9:30 PM, Aug 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-21 00:30:30-04

GILA BEND, AZ — Governor Doug Ducey visited Gila Bend Friday, the scene of one of last week’s historic floods. The governor declared a state of emergency and it immediately freed up $200,000 in state money to help deal with the initial costs of recovery. But there is still a lot of work to do.

“As far as cleanup, it’s just been nonstop sun up to sundown,” Heide Engelke said.

Along with her boyfriend Jesse Aguirre, they’ve spent the past week cleaning up a rental property. The water rose three feet up the side of the house and they say they’ve removed several tons of debris that washed up next to it. Neither Heide nor Jesse have gone inside.

“We’re gonna empty it out first and see what’s left,” Aguirre said.

“I’m heartbroken by what I’ve witnessed,” Governor Ducey said after touring two flood-ravaged homes. One of them belongs to Gila Bend Fire Chief Amelia Henry.

Henry and her husband’s home suffered significant damage, with a newly restored kitchen destroyed and family artifacts ruined. But Henry never left her post. While her home flooded Chief Henry was overseeing search and rescue operations.

The governor also heard stories of bravery. Gila Bend’s fire department is full of volunteers. Three of those firemen climbed over a stalled train and walked thru chest-deep water to help residents pleading for help.

“For the longest time it was the three of us going thru homes, getting shocks, getting people up on their roofs,” said Fire Captain Fred Burkhardt. “The fear and devastation in people’s eyes was what struck us.”

The governor announced a statewide grant program to help small businesses affected by wildfires, monsoons, and COVID. $5 million is set aside to offer small businesses up to $10,000 to help hire workers. The governor hopes Gila Bend businesses will be able to benefit from it.

Gila Bend Mayor Chris Riggs estimates it will cost between $5 million and $10 million to recover from damage caused by the flood. County and state officials were part of a briefing the governor attended with Gila Bend officials.

Where that money comes from remains to be seen.

“We’re going back to the drawing board on this because we have a circumstance that wasn’t anticipated,” Ducey said. “There’s limited state dollars. But the state is in a good position and again, without having repeaters disease, this is why you come out and do these visits.”

The state, which is working with FEMA in Flagstaff, Is hoping the agency will include Gila Bend on its list of Arizona communities in need of federal help.

While the governor has kept his focus on Gila Bend, many feel that Ducey has neglected to offer any help to the Globe-Miami area, which has seen several days of severe flooding of its own in the last few weeks.

"I don't know if he [Gov. Ducey] realizes the difference between Gila County and Gila Bend right now," says Marie Hamilton, Gila County resident.

Miami town manager, Micah Gaudet, sent out a press release Thursday pointing out: "No state official came to Miami to see the devastation of the post-fire flooding. If they did, they would have seen a resilient, community-led approach. The speed of our response is due to our wonderful community and everyone who continues to support us."