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Texas neighbors flee a swollen Rio Grande

4-8 inches of rain follows hurricane

By Michelle Roberts and Christopher Sherman
Associated Press / July 9, 2010

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LAREDO, Texas — The gentle stream that usually marks the Rio Grande bulged into a mighty river along much of its southern reach yesterday as a tropical depression dumped torrents of rain on a Texas-Mexico border region already struggling with flooded homes and evacuations after last week’s hurricane.

Authorities in Laredo evacuated several neighborhoods close to the river and a 16-story hotel on the banks as the river grew to 42 feet deep and water crept into some homes. The rains were expected to keep the water level high, said Xochitl Mora Garcia, city spokeswoman.

“It’s difficult to describe,’’ said Jerry W. Archer, the manager of Rio Grande Plaza Hotel. He estimated the river was about 15 times its usual size. “I was born and raised on the Mississippi River, but people here are used to just a small stream.’’

The muddy waters — engorged by dam releases upstream and rain-swollen tributaries following Hurricane Alex — submerged light poles and towering palm trees, leaving only a few fronds waving above the water line.

National Guard troops arrived to help with evacuations, and people in low-lying areas were gathering sandbags to protect their homes before being forced to leave.

Nancy Castillo, 35, was picking up sandbags while her sister prepared to evacuate from her home near a normally dry creek bed that’s overflowing with water.

“It’s typically dry everywhere in Laredo — except now,’’ she said.

Tens of thousands of people had already been forced from their homes in Mexican towns earlier in the week as dam releases dumped water into overfull rivers to avoid the risk of out-of-control releases following Hurricane Alex.

Humberto Moreira, governor of the border state of Coahuila, said more than 20,000 homes had been flooded in his state alone, and about 80,000 people had “lost all of their furniture.’’ A similar number of people had damaged homes in Nuevo Leon, according to that state’s governor, Rodrigo Medina.

The tropical depression made landfall at South Padre Island late yesterday morning and was expected to dump 4 to 8 inches of rain across the area, with as much as 10 inches in some parts, said the National Weather Service. That rain comes on top of the 5 to 7 inches from Hurricane Alex.

In Laredo, where roughly half of all US-Mexico trade crosses, authorities closed two bridges and severely limited traffic on a third. They also restricted traffic on the World Trade International Bridge.

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