WELLTON, ARIZ. — FLOODWATERS swamped about 20,000 acres of farmland in one of the nation's richest winter-produce regions and threatened to close the last road bridge still open March 3 over the Gila River in Yuma County.
Thousands more acres were in danger as the water rose along a 90-mile reach of the river from Painted Rock Dam to the Colorado River just above Yuma.
The flooding has virtually cut off many residents from the other side of the river.
"We don't know what to expect from this thing because water has gotten out of the levees upstream and is coming down the valley all over the place," said Clyde Gould, manager of the Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation District, which supplies 75 percent of the nation's winter lettuce in March.
After a flyover inspection, Mr. Gould estimated 20,000 acres were swamped. He said earthen dikes were barely containing the water.
The river channel began flooding Feb. 24, overloaded with water spilling from the dam. The earthern dam is holding back a 150-square-mile lake formed this year as record winter rains brought flooding across Arizona.
Hank Green, county emergency-services director, said at least 1,600 people have fled their homes, while the homes of more than 4,000 others lie in the path of the flood or on vulnerable low banks of the Colorado River.
There are nine road bridges across the Gila in Yuma County.
Just one, about seven miles east of Yuma, remained open to emergency traffic. It could close, leaving a railroad bridge as the last link across the river.
People living on the produce-rich north side of the river have been forced to make day-long roundtrips, mostly over rough dirt and gravel roads, to get around the flooded area and reach shops on the other side of the river.