High water closes border bridge
Bridges closed, and more rain is on way
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.
The mayor of Piedras Negras was among those killed when this plane crashed Wednesday during a survey of flood damage.