Residents living in the Rio Grande Valley have experienced several days of heavy rains this week, which have overwhelmed cities like McAllen and Weslaco.
Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for Hidalgo County on Thursday. Hundreds of residents have been forced to leave their homes due to rising flood waters.
In the mid-Valley, those numbers are only rising, says Daniel Flores, a reporter for McAllen’s Monitor newspaper.
“I’d imagine that number is a lot more because they’ve been doing rescues for two days, he says. “The worst of it has been along the frontage roads, and there are pockets within the city of low-lying areas that have been, that actually still have standing water currently.”
Though many cities in the area were well-prepared with their drainage systems, the sudden rains overwhelmed them.
“There was a lot of water in a little bit of time,” he says. “And what officials will say is that, if you get this amount of water in this little time, any sort of city is going to be affected. What they’re saying is that the drainage is working the way it should be working. It’s just that it’s overtaxed, it’s overwhelmed.”
An 89-year-old woman from New Orleans told Flores that “she’d never felt hard rain like that in McAllen, and she lived through Katrina. So I think it was just, if we’re gonna have this amount of rain in a short period of time, it’s gonna tax the system.”
He says that, though there is still standing water in cities throughout the Valley, “that’s probably issues dealing with local aspects of drainage, whether it be a pump that might be broken, or whether it be a drain that’s not working properly, or drains that are not cleaned.”
On Wednesday and Thursday, some cities “were delayed because they had to make sure that it was even safe to send out their workers, because of the water came up so quickly. “
The communities most affected now, and most likely to be affected in the future, “are ones that don’t have these resources that municipalities have in terms of drainage,” Flores says. “There are colonias that exist in the Rio Grande Valley that are predominantly immigrant communities, and I’m not sure we sort of know the damage yet. But I can tell you that if it rains a little bit, then there is sitting water there.”
Colonias are not formal municipalities, and some don’t have basic utility infrastructure or sewer service. Even those with basic utilities were not designed to have safe drainage.
With climate change increasing levels of flooding in Texas, as elsewhere, the problem could get worse.
“Obviously,” Flores says, “in regard to the hurricane preparedness of the region, “I do think that this is an indication that we are not ready for a large-scale storm.”
Written by Rachel Taube.