President Buu Nygren discusses emergency preparedness with FEMA Administrator
WASHINGTON — President Buu Nygren, on Monday, met with Deanne Criswell, Administrator for the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The two leaders discussed a number of issues including the flooding in Chinle.
“As you know, several communities throughout the Navajo Nation have experienced flooding as a result of winter storms in January. Of these communities, one the most impacted in the community is Chinle,” said the Navajo Nation President.
Over the course of the last several weeks, FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers have been present to assist in the disaster response.
President Nygren expressed to Administrator Criswell of some concerns regarding communications and preparedness that is taking place in Chinle.
”We are in the dire need of emergency assistance and strong coordination between Federal agencies and the Navajo Nation to effectively respond to these recent flooding,” he said. “This emergency affects over 27,000 Navajo people who have called this area home since time immemorial.”
Criswell appreciated President Nygren starting the dialogue between the Nation and FEMA.
“I would say that the best thing is making sure that we keep an open dialogue that we have this opportunity to talk with each other. It's a really interesting time that I think our nation finds ourselves in. We are seeing an increase in the number of severe weather events. We're seeing them be more intense, meaning more complex recoveries everywhere, and the role that all of our emergency managers, whether at FEMA, at the tribal level, at the local level across the nation, said Criswell.
The Administrator described the rapid change in the weather system were creating emergency situations. Criswell mentioned the snow California received during the winter, which was causing multiple significant events.
“The recent like atmospheric rivers that happened across California with multiple significant rain events, one right after the other, creating challenges that we haven't faced in the past,” she said. “So, starting this dialogue is really important.”
On April 11, President Joseph Biden issued an order declaring that a major disaster existed in the Navajo Nation caused by severe winter storms and flooding from January 14-17.
The order directs federal agencies to cooperate in providing aid to supplement the Nation’s efforts to provide disaster relief in the areas affected by the storms.
President Nygren spared no expense or equipment to help the affected residents affected by the floods that began on April 21. The cause of the flood is snowmelt in the Chuska Mountains.
According to Dr. Crystal Tulley-Cordova, Principal Hydrologist in the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources - Water Management Branch, the Navajo Nation received 150% more snow than normal.
The runoff from the snowmelt is fed into Whiskey Creek and Tsaile Creek overflowing the two lakes — Wheatfields Lake and Tsaile Lake as well as lower-elevation reservoirs, Tulley-Cordova explained.
On April 26, President Nygren visited the impacted area and got to see firsthand the devastation the flooding caused.
The President, along with Navajo Nation Council Delegate Shawna Claw and Chinle Chapter President Dr. Rosanna Jumbo-Fitch signed a $3 million emergency ARPA funding legislation that went toward emergency efforts to save lives and stop flooding.
In January, an emergency declaration, the January 2023 Commission Emergency Management resolution, was signed by the President. The purpose of the resolution is to take care of the ongoing need for resources to address winter snow storms, mud, snow melt, and flood which create potential health and safety risks across the Navajo Nation.
Since the flooding began, resources have been deployed from the Navajo Nation, including Navajo Division of Transportation, Navajo Engineering Construction Authority, IHS, Apache County, Rubicon, American Red Cross, Navajo Technical University, and Chinle Chapter.
Navajo Police, along with Navajo Nation Fire & Rescue, EMS, Navajo Department of Emergency Management, CHR, Navajo rangers, and Navajo Nation Fish & Wildlife, have also been on the ground assisting community members affected by the flooding.
More than two weeks later since the floods began, the water levels have receded, said Navajo Division of Transportation Executive Director Garrett Silverwmith. He added the emergency operation has demobilized and about half of the resources and manpower dedicated to the efforts.
“We will continue this week on site with other related dirt road repairs,” said Director Silversmith.
On Monday, FEMA issued a Flood Advisory and a Red Flag Warming for Chinle and Shiprock areas.
“This is mainly due to flow over spillways of Tsaile Dam and Wheatfields Dam, bringing water down Canyon del Muerto and Coyote Wash,” FEMA stated in its Monday issue.
FEMA stated the flooding was caused by snowmelt, while the red flag warning created dangerous fire conditions.
“Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly,” stated FEMA, adding that gusting 50 mph winds could ignite a fire. “Outdoor burning is not recommended.”