KEAMS CANYON, Ariz. — Melting snow turned Arizona's dirt roads into rivers of mud today, and National Guard efforts to airlift critical supplies of food, fuel, medicine and livestock feed to 18,000 Indians stranded on three reservations were slowed.
Gov. Bruce Babbitt declared a state of emergency Tuesday for four counties after Navajo, Hopi and Hualapai tribal officials said several days of rain and snow had left clay roads impassable.
A five-helicopter airlift operation had been expected to begin at dawn from Keams Canyon on the Hopi Reservation.
But snow and icy conditions forced relief workers to alter their route around the storm. A Hopi tribal police dispatcher said National Guard trucks loaded with supplies, as well as the helicopters that were to help distribute them, faced hours of delay.
8 People Evacuated
Duane Beyal, a spokesman for the Navajos, said eight people were evacuated from the western part of the reservation over the weekend. He said Navajo County officials used a four-wheel-drive vehicle to rescue a family with five children.
"Almost all the people evacuated had symptoms of high fever, dehydration and acute diarrhea," said Beyal, adding that the eight people remain hospitalized.
Sylvia Querta, vice chairman of the Hualapais, said the elderly tribal members in the rural parts of the reservation have not been able to get wood for heat. She added that livestock in the eastern part of the reservation is suffering because there is two feet of snow on the ground.
The four counties are Mohave in far western Arizona, north-central Coconino and Navajo and Apache near the New Mexico border.
Emergency Last Year
Just 11 months ago the National Guard was dispatched to the Navajo Reservation when snow and mud stranded about 2,000 Navajos for a month. Four deaths were attributed to the weather as the state spent $750,000 in emergency aid.
The focus of the current operation is the northern section of the former Navajo-Hopi joint use area near the remote community of Big Mountain, where between 3,000 and 4,000 Indians live, authorities said.
Hopi police spokesman Richard Armstrong said three to five inches of snow has fallen and more is expected.
"The roads are basically clay, and you can imagine what happens to clay when water hits it," Armstrong said.