Navajos Declare State of Emergency Due to Winter Weather

January 30, 2008

The signs that roads soon might be impassable were evident.

The snow that had just fallen across the Navajo Nation capital Monday was melting, and tribal officials said that’s when the possibilities for flooding and muddy conditions increase.

Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. and the tribe’s Commission on Emergency Management responded by declaring a state of emergency that will free up tribal resources and funding to address the needs of residents — particularly those in higher elevations.

“Protecting life, limb and property is always our first priority,” Shirley said. “Real dangers exists in our remote areas miles from paved roads.”

Navajo lawmakers also passed legislation during the first day of their winter session that will give each of the tribe’s 110 chapter houses $25,000 to address weather-related emergencies.

And thousands of sandbags are on their way to the Navajo Nation, courtesy of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano.

A snow advisory was in effect for western Navajo cities — including Kayenta, Chinle, Window Rock, Ganado and Dilkon. With three to six inches of snow expected in elevations over 6,000 feet, the National Weather Service said.

“It’s sweeping across most of the reservation throughout the evening,” said Ben Peterson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Flagstaff. “Everyone will have a little taste of this, and then they’ll get a break tomorrow.”

Herman Shorty, chairman of the emergency management commission, said no deaths or incidents of property damage have been reported as a result of the recent weather. But he said more than a dozen communities have sought assistance.

Chapter officials have conducted assessments of their communities and will make it their first priority to tend to residents who are disabled, need medical care or are elderly, Shorty said.

“There are no stones left unturned,” he said.

Tribal officials are urging residents to dress in layers and have plenty of water, food, fuel and blankets on hand in case they get stranded. Roads on the Navajo Nation are mostly dirt and clay with pockets of sand.

Shorty said while the weather might be inconvenient for travel, he sees it as a bit of a blessing in terms of moisture needed.
But he said, “in no way is this alleviating the drought.”

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