Border towns bail out as rio Grande surges

cities keep an eye on river that has gone from quiet to roar­ing

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Christoper Sher­man and Michelle Roberts

RIO GRANDE CITY — Up­stream com­mu­ni­ties be­gan to as­sess the dam­age Fri­day wrought by a Rio Grande that jumped its banks in Laredo, while peo­ple down­river mar­veled war­ily at a river that bore lit­tle re­sem­blance to the lazy wa­ter­way that usu­ally di­vides border cities.

The Rio Grande con­tin­ued ris­ing in the city that bears its name — to more than 3 feet above flood stage, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice. The river was ex­pected to rise an ad­di­tional 2 feet to more than 55 feet.

Long­time res­i­dents said they had not seen the river reach these heights since Hur­ri­cane Beu­lah in 1967. The dif­fer­ence so far is that the area mer­ci­fully re­ceived lit­tle rain from the trop­i­cal de­pres­sion that came ashore Thurs­day near the mouth of the Rio Grande.

City Man­ager Juan Zu­niga hoped that the lack of rain would stave off any threat of se­ri­ous flood­ing.

“If we get any sub­stan­tial rain, that will cause prob­lems for us,” Zu­niga said. His more press­ing con­cern was how much wa­ter would be re­leased from the Fal­con Dam up­stream.

The In­ter­na­tional Bound­ary and Wa­ter Com- mis­sion more than dou­bled the amount of wa­ter pass­ing through Fal­con on Thurs­day, and Zu­niga waited to hear whether it would be in­creased again. The com­mis­sion was an­a­lyz­ing data and had not de­cided to re­lease more wa­ter at mid­day Fri­day.

The other fac­tor was how much wa­ter would en­ter the Rio Grande from Mex­ico through the Rio San Juan. A Mex­i­can reser­voir not far from the border across from Rio Grande City has a spill­way that does not al­low au­thor­i­ties to con­trol how much wa­ter leaves af­ter it tops the bar­rier.

Jose Lopez, 80, lives next to a creek that nor-

Con­tin­ued from B mally feeds the Rio Grande.

Wa­ter has been back­ing up in the creek dur­ing the last two days, and Lopez was ready­ing his yard Fri­day.

He showed an eroded line about 3 feet up his house’s stucco wall, where he said flood­wa­ters from Hur­ri­cane Gil­bert in 1988 flowed past his house.

“Ev­ery­thing in­side was lost, the stove, the beds,” Lopez said. This time Lopez said he would try to leave if it looked like the creek would flood again.

“But where am I go­ing to go? My wife is ill. We don’t have other fam­ily here.”

The Rio Grande crested in down­town Laredo at more than 42 feet be­fore dawn Fri- day. The wa­ter re­mained high and pushed against a bridge that re­mained closed, but of­fi­cials did not an­tic­i­pate any more evac­u­a­tions.

Those who were evac­u­ated Thurs­day were ex­pected to be out of their homes for a cou­ple more days.

“It still may be awhile be­fore things are back to nor­mal,” said city spokes­woman Xo­chitl Mora Gar­cia.

In Laredo, where about half of all U.S.-Mex­ico trade crosses the border, au­thor­i­ties on Fri­day re­opened one of the in­ter­na­tional bridges on the north­west­ern edge of the city, but one down­town bridge re­mained closed, and a sec­ond was se­verely re­stricted.

The ve­hi­cle in­spec­tion sta- tion in Nuevo Laredo was un­der sev­eral feet of wa­ter.

In Cen­tral Texas, rains as­so­ci­ated with the trop­i­cal de­pres­sion were ex­pected to di­min­ish overnight, and more sum­mer­like con­di­tions are ex­pected this week­end and next week, said Chris Mor­ris, a fore­caster with the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice.

To­day is ex­pected to be mostly sunny with highs in the low 90s and a slight chance of rain, Mor­ris said. Hu­mid­ity is ex­pected to be high, he said.

On Fri­day, Cen­tral Texas re­ceived a quar­ter inch to more than an inch of rain, ac­cord­ing to read­ings from the Lower Colorado River Author­ity. A res­i­dent tosses wa­ter Fri­day from his flooded home in Nuevo Laredo, Ta­mauli­pas. Au­thor­i­ties in Laredo re­opened an in­ter­na­tional bridge Fri­day that had been closed be­cause of flood­ing.

Eric Gay AS­So­ci­Ated preSS

From left, Austin Flores, Max Sosa and Alex Valdez shovel mud from a neigh­bor’s drive­way Fri­day in Laredo dur­ing cleanup ef­forts af­ter the Rio Grande flooded their neigh­bor­hood. The river crested there at more than 42 feet early Fri­day, and one down­town bridge re­mained closed.

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