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Texas' other crisis: Flooding along border

As crews spent the night building a makeshift dam along a railroad line, residents of a West Texas border town watched as flood waters from the Rio Grande inched closer to homes.
Border Flood
Water from the Rio Grande on Wednesday flooded this border crossing between Presidio, Texas, and Ojinaga, Mexico.Walt Frerck / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Crews worked Friday to throw up makeshift dams after a levee break weakened this normally dusty West Texas border town’s defenses against the swollen Rio Grande.

About 150 inmates brought in from low-security facilities elsewhere in West Texas filled rotund sandbags about as tall as tractor tires. They were to be carried to the base of a railroad trestle by CH-47 helicopters that Gov. Rick Perry’s office was sending.

Rio Grande levels appeared lower Friday, and residents reported that water was receding. On Thursday, the water crept toward populated areas of Presidio from a levee break on the eastern edge of the town of 5,000.

“The good news on the river is that levels seem to have stabilized,” said Presidio County Attorney Rod Ponton. “We don’t know why that happened, but we’re happy.”

But the town is far from in the clear after two weeks of watching the river that divides it from Ojinaga, Mexico. The Rio Grande has been on the rise because of heavy rain and the forced release of water from the flood-stricken Luis Leon Reservoir in Mexico.

The situation prompted Perry to issue a disaster declaration Thursday night. He also asked for a presidential disaster declaration for Presidio County.

“This situation poses an immediate danger to the residents of Presidio,” the governor said in a statement.

Crews were using 20,000 to 30,000 small sandbags to fortify the base of a 1,300-foot stretch of railroad tracks. A trestle closest to the levee breach was getting the large sandbags being prepared Friday, and two other trestles were getting dirt and sandbags to help stem the flow of water.

Across the border in Ojinaga, hundreds of homes were flooded after the Rio Conchos jumped its banks and a dam overflowed, said Isaac Olivas, director of civil protection for the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Floodwaters reached 13 feet in some parts of the town.

He said 300 families had been evacuated over the weekend, and no one was hurt. Olivas said there were no breaches in any of the dams on Mexico’s side of the border.

Ponton said poor river management by Mexican officials contributed to the flooding. “This is not a natural disaster. It’s a manmade disaster,” he said.

The recent rains and flooding here aren’t related to Hurricane Ike, which hit hundreds of miles to the east.