New Mexico family: City’s blunder destroyed home

"We haven't only lost our home, we've lost a place for our kids to grow up”

Water main break flooding

GALLUP, N.M. (KRQE) – A massive water main break in the city of Gallup turned nearby homes into a flood zone. One of the families lost their home and claims city crews should have seen this coming.

What was a sunny day September 14, 2016, is now a dark memory for certain families in Gallup.

“It’s devastation,” said Melissa Ramirez. Ramirez had just finished dinner with her family when she heard a noise that would change their lives.

“I heard water running and I went to open the back door, and I couldn’t even open it,” Ramirez recalled.

When she got outside, she saw a massive geyser had pierced through the ground, shooting water more than 20 feet into the air, directly toward her home.

“The street just exploded,” Ramirez said. “The water was just coming like a river all the way here around the house.”

She couldn’t believe what was happening. The water was coming from a broken 16-inch city water main.

The water main carries most of Gallup’s water supply from city tanks that hold roughly five million gallons.

“We take our water from the Yah-ta-hey well field,” explained Dennis Romero, Executive Director with the city of Gallup’s Water and Sanitation Department.

The underground water main runs from the Gamerco water tanks on the north side of town, through the city of Gallup, through Ramirez’s neighborhood, all the way to another set of storage tanks.

“It’s a 16-inch line with a large volume of water under pressure, say 90-95 PSI,” said Romero.

When the line gave out near 5th and Hill, neighbors frantically tried to keep flood waters from completely engulfing Ramirez’s home.

A group of men tired themselves swinging sledgehammers, and eventually smashed through the cinder block wall surrounding the home to offer some relief.Neighbors try and break cinder block wall

Underneath the home in the family’s basement, water was rushing more than six feet high. Ramirez said the flood underneath her home ruined the family’s furnace and their entire foundation.

“It totally submerged the sub-flooring,” Ramirez pointed to the warped floor.

Now, Ramirez’s home of 14 years sits empty. “It’s like a musky, moldy smell,” she described as she walked into the empty home.

The family managed to rescue most of their valuables. However, Ramirez said the home she and her husband shared with their two young sons is a total loss.

“I mean our lives were here, we never planned on leaving this house,” Ramirez told KRQE News 13.

Now a month after the flood, Ramirez feels like her world is slowly caving in. There are cracks in the walls, and the floor is warped.

So where’s the city in all of this?

“They had to have known this was coming,” said Ramirez.

There is an indication city officials should have seen this coming.

“This is where it failed,” Romero pointed to a piece of broken pipe from the water main.

“What happens occasionally is air will get bound into a line, it’ll cause back-pressure, and when you have water under pressure, it’s eventually gonna find a weak point,” Romero explained.
Water Main Break
On top of that, the ductile iron pipe that was installed back in the 1960’s was old and corroding.

“It’s near the end of its service life,” said Romero.

KRQE News 13 asked Romero if city officials dropped the ball by not replacing the line sooner.

“You know, I can’t answer that question for you,” Romero replied.

He did say the line was scheduled for maintenance within the next five years, but the crack in the line September 14th beat them to the punch.

Even though Romero said city crews shut off the water within minutes, it took nearly two hours for the leak to drain.

“We needed to slowly, slowly isolate the line, bring the valves down because if we didn’t, we would run the risk of creating a back-pressure and cracking the line upstream or downstream of there,” Romero explained.

The city estimates the geyser spewed more than 1.1 million gallons of water.

Ramirez said she was told by a state building inspector that her home alone took in at least 10,000 gallons of water.

“This has altered our lives forever,” Ramirez said.

Insurance companies are now squabbling over who’s liable for what, while the Ramirez family is left in limbo.

In the meantime, the Ramirez family has to pay for a small apartment on top of their home mortgage.

Ramirez is also concerned about her 13-year-old son’s health. He’s prone to pneumonia, with an immune deficiency, Ramirez said. Her son’s doctor warned the family not to move back, saying the water-damaged home “may trigger severe respiratory problems” for the 13-year-old boy.

KRQE News 13 asked Romero if the city has apologized to the Ramirez family.

“I would once again if it’s at all possible ask you to please discuss that with the risk management office and the city manager,” Romero replied.
Water Main Break
The assistant city manager with the City of Gallup’s Risk Management office told KRQE News 13 due to the ongoing insurance investigation, the city cannot take official responsibility for any mishap until that investigation is complete.

The city of Gallup did put Ramirez’s family in a hotel for five days following the flood but cut them off once the family filed an insurance claim.

“They told us there was nothing they could do, to talk to the insurance,” said Ramirez. “The response that we got {from the city}, it just made us feel like we didn’t matter.”

Romero said city officials are trying to keep this from happening again by moving major water lines out of neighborhoods, but that long-term project will take years.

For now, the city plans to repair the 16-inch water main.

“That is right now their highest priority,” said Romero.

It’s a different priority than the one the Ramirez family has in mind, rebuilding their home.

The family has no idea when they’ll get the help or the money they need to fix a problem they didn’t create.

“We haven’t only lost our home, we’ve lost a place for our kids to grow up,” said Ramirez. “They don’t want to leave this neighborhood.”

Four homes were hit by the water main break. The Ramirez family are the only ones still working to get their home back. Ramirez said two other families were able to stay in their homes, while the third family was able to move to a different rental property.

The Ramirez family has started a GoFundMe to raise money to help with expenses during their displacement. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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