In the last two years, Maverick County, Texas, made the list of entities rated by the U.S. Drought Monitor as suffering from extreme or exceptional drought. The classification made farmers in the county on the U.S.-Mexico border eligible for extra assistance from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
But on June 14 and 15, the world changed dramatically. In a 36-hour period, 16.65 inches of rain deluged Maverick, setting off flooding in low-income neighborhoods known as colonias and many other parts of the county.
Flood waters cascaded into the Rio Grande and pushed the crest of the river almost to the top of two international bridges linking the city of Eagle Pass, Texas, with Piedras Negras, Coahuila. Eagle Pass Mayor Ramsey Cantu said no deaths resulted from the storm disaster, but at least 140 homes were damaged. Photos posted on a local news website showed one home in flames after being struck by lightening. Beefed up by volunteers, a multi-agency task force made up of local, state and federal officials used boats to rescue more than 65 people by using boats.
No estimates of economic losses were immediately reported. Typically, Maverick County gets 21 inches of rainfall during the course of an entire year.
Across the border, widespread destruction was left in the path of the storm. An estimated 50,000 people were affected by flood waters in Piedras Negras and four other Coahuila municipalities. In Piedras Negras alone, authorities determined that 1,023 homes had major or complete losses. Additionally, 31 schools sustained slight to severe damage, prompting a reshuffling of students to less-impacted schools as the academic year neared an end.
In some zones, water reportedly reached nearly 6 feet. At least one person was reported killed and three injured. Some 1,500 people were forced to stay in shelters.
After flying over the disaster zone, Coahuila Gov. Ruben Moreira gave a preliminary damage estimate in the neighborhood of $38 million. The state government later pledged to deliver mattresses, stoves, cleaning kits and other supplies to the affected population. In order to reactivate the economy, Moreira said, water would be provided free of charge, taxes suspended and low-cost loans granted to struggling businesses.
Other Mexican officials swung into action. The Mexican army activated its DN-111 emergency response plan, while the Piedras Negras Integral Family Development program began collecting supplies including bottled water, canned food, clean clothing and diapers. The storm walloped Piedras Negras and neighboring communities less than a month before state elections.
In Texas, the office of Gov. Rick Perry responded quickly and positively to a request from Eagle Pass and Maverick County leaders for a disaster declaration. The designation makes the storm-ravaged area eligible for state and federal assistance.
Additional sources: Zocalo.com.mx, June 17 and 18, 2013. Articles by Baldomero Gomez Valdes and editorial staff. El Universal, June 17, 2013. Articles by Enrique Proa and Hilda Fernandez. La Jornada/Notimex, June 16, 2013. Eagle Pass Business Journal, June 16, 2013. Article by Jose G. Landa.
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico