High wa­ter closes border bridge

Bridges closed, and more rain is on way

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Jorge Var­gas

Rains from Hur­ri­cane Alex and dam re­leases up­stream in an­tic­i­pa­tion of more rain have prompted Laredo of­fi­cials to shut down Bridge One, fore­ground, which spans the Rio Grande. Flood­wa­ters are ex­pected to crest as high as 43 feet, enough to top the bridge. On the U.S. side of the river, light poles from a flooded park and park­ing lot rise from the wa­ter. Of­fi­cials have called 3,000 homes, urg­ing res­i­dents to leave be­fore the river crests. Also on Wed­nes­day, Piedras Ne­gras Mayor José Manuel Mal­don­ado and five oth­ers were killed when their plane crashed as they sur­veyed the flood­ing.

NUEVO LAREDO, Ta­mauli­pas — Reser­voirs along the U.S.-Mex­ico border rose to their high­est lev­els in decades af­ter days of drench­ing rain, forc­ing of­fi­cials to close border bridges Wed­nes­day, dump dam wa­ter into flooded rivers and evac­u­ate tens of thou­sands from homes — with yet an­other storm on the way.

Six peo­ple died, in­clud­ing the mayor of Piedras Ne- gras, Coahuila, when their plane sur­vey­ing the flood­ing crashed.

The dra­matic rise of the Rio Grande caused by Hur­ri­cane Alex and con­tin­u­ing rains forced the clo­sure of one ma­jor border cross­ing be­tween down­town Laredo and Nuevo Laredo and an­other cross­ing known as the Colom­bia Bridge, about 20 miles up­river.

Laredo city spokes­woman Xo­chitl Mora said Bridge One was closed as a pre­cau­tion ahead of the ex­pected crest to­day. The wa­ter was ex­pected

to rise as high as 43 feet late to­day — high enough to top the bridge.

Of­fi­cials were re­mov­ing the heavy steel shade canopies to ease the weight on Bridge One be­fore the heav­i­est wa­ter pres­sure comes with the river crest, she said. About 11,000 pedes­tri­ans and 13,000 ve­hi­cles use the bridge daily. A sec­ond bridge at the north­west­ern edge of Laredo was also be­ing closed to traf­fic be­fore the river crests. The other two Laredo bridges, in­clud­ing the busy World Trade Bridge, were ex­pected to re­main open.

Up­stream, of­fi­cials evac­u­ated the flood-threat­ened Vega Verde sub­di­vi­sion in Del Rio, some 110 miles from Laredo, and high wa­ters in the north- ern Mex­i­can state of Coahuila have al­ready dam­aged some 10,000 homes — many swamped in waist-deep wa­ter.

“That means there are 40,000 peo­ple who don’t have any place to sleep,” Gov. Hum­berto Mor­eira told the Tele­visa net­work Wed­nes­day.

West of Nuevo Laredo, Mex­i­can of­fi­cials evac­u­ated nearly 18,000 peo­ple from houses in Ciudad Anahuac, Nuevo León, fear­ing that wa­ter would over­flow the Venus­tiano Car­ranza Dam. Mex­ico’s Na­tional Wa­ter Com­mis­sion said the dam was in the midst of the largest emer­gency wa­ter re­lease in the coun­try.

Anahuac Mayor Santos Garza Gar­cia said at least 1,500 homes were flooded in the nearby town of Ro­driguez.

Killed in the plane crash Wed­nes­day were the Piedras Ne­gras mayor, the state pub­lic works di­rec­tor, a mu­nic­i­pal civil de­fense of­fi­cial, a govern­ment pho­tog­ra­pher and the pi­lot and co-pi­lot. The plane was fly­ing over a rain-swollen reser­voir about 25 miles west of Ea­gle Pass when it went down, said Ri­cardo Castillo, a spokesman for Coahuila.

Hur­ri­cane Alex dumped heavy rains on the re­gion last week, caus­ing flood­ing that killed at least 12 peo­ple in Nuevo León and leav­ing 130,000 with­out wa­ter ser­vice.

The U.S. Na­tional Weather Ser­vice said a new storm is likely to make its way across the Gulf of Mex­ico and hit the re­gion within a day or two.

Wa­ter be­hind the bi­na­tional Amis­tad Dam on the Rio Grande near Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña is at its high­est level since 1974, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Bound­ary and Wa­ter Com­mis­sion, forc­ing of­fi­cials to re­lease wa­ter from it at the fastest rate in a quar­ter cen­tury.

The com­mis­sion said the down­stream Fal­con Dam would prob­a­bly reach ca­pac­ity within the next few days, sug­gest­ing that fu­ture re­leases there will raise wa­ter lev­els along the river’s lower reaches. Au­thor­i­ties walked a painful, del­i­cate line — forced to re­lease reser­voir wa­ters they know will add to flood­ing in hopes of avoid­ing worse dis­as­ters.

Garza Gar­cia, the Anahuac mayor, said 20 flood­gates had been opened by late Tues­day at the Venus­tiano Car­ranza Dam, which was re­leas­ing 600 cu­bic me­ters per sec­ond into the Sal­ado River, a trib­u­tary of the Rio Grande.

“It was prefer­able hav­ing con­trolled flood­ing than hav­ing the whole town dis­ap­pear,” he said.

Ulysses S. Romero LAREDO MORN­ING NEWS

Os­car Vil­lalba AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The mayor of Piedras Ne­gras was among those killed when this plane crashed Wed­nes­day dur­ing a sur­vey of flood dam­age.

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