EDCOUCH — One year and four days after thunderstorms devastated large swaths of the Rio Grande Valley, another intense rain event has caused significant damage here due to flooding and high winds.
Parts of Mercedes and Weslaco, including the Las Brisas neighborhood off Mile 9 North Road, that saw significant days-long flooding last year — dubbed the Great June Flood of 2018 by the National Weather Service — again saw floodwaters rise as powerful squalls began to bloom just after sunset Monday.
Though water had drained from much of the city by Tuesday afternoon, city officials said water pumps remain stationed in the north Weslaco neighborhood to pump out water that remained pooled in the subdivision.
“That’s (Las Brisas) the main area over there where we have our water pumps working, and they’re pumping out all the water from that area,” said Eric Hernandez, public information officer for the city of Weslaco during emergency operations.
The city deployed high water vehicles to the neighborhood to evacuate residents who had called for assistance, Hernandez said. They were taken to the SafeDome in Mercedes, which also experienced serious flooding.
“Mercedes was hit a little bit harder than us, or their water didn’t recede as fast as ours,” Hernandez said.
But it was in the small Delta communities almost due north of Weslaco and Mercedes where the most extensive damage could be seen Tuesday morning.
In Edcouch, the storm knocked out phone lines and electricity. Streets on either side of State Highway 107 were inundated by water.
“We weren’t expecting this much water,” said Edcouch City Manager Victor Hugo de la Cruz while out surveying the damage Tuesday morning. “But, I think within an hour, they were talking about maybe 10 inches, something like that. It was pretty bad.”
The storm pelted the town so suddenly that nearly a dozen motorists who had been merely passing through were forced to take shelter at the Edcouch fire station where local residents were also sheltering, de la Cruz said.
Emergency responders rescued some 40 or more people from rising waters Monday evening, de la Cruz said. However, the rescues didn’t come without cost. The rising waters ultimately disabled several city vehicles, including a fire engine, a brush truck and a police patrol unit.
The fire engine was damaged when crews attempted to rescue a police officer whose unit had become trapped near the Edcouch-Elsa school district complex on Highway 107. The flood waters floated the multi-ton fire truck and caused it to drift into the roadside ditch. It remained stranded there until Tuesday afternoon.
Despite the vehicle losses, the city manager reported no one was injured by Monday’s storm, though crews had to temporarily suspend their efforts when the storm worsened overnight. “At around 2 in the morning, it got really, really bad and I had to call everybody back in,” de la Cruz said, adding that he feared for the safety of emergency responders in the worsening storm.
First responders were further hampered in their rescue efforts by damage sustained at city hall early on in the evening, when phone lines and electricity at the building went down. The building also houses the Edcouch Police Department. In order to restore communications and power to the building, which does not have a backup generator, officials had to connect to a fire truck equipped with one.
Just a few miles north of Edcouch and Elsa, the rural farm community of Monte Alto was similarly bracing beneath the onslaught Monday night.
Strong winds lashed the town, ripping boughs off dozens of trees and flattening the windward sides of nearly harvest-ready corn and sugarcane fields.
The morning’s sunlight showed those residential streets that hadn’t flooded nonetheless awash with debris — stripped foliage and dirt that formed a wrack line akin to a high tide line.
East of the main drag of Farm-to-Market 88 Road, along Hackberry Street, a neighborhood filled mostly with mobile homes sat beneath several feet of water Tuesday morning.
The worst of the flooding was along Cielo Lane, where runoff from an adjacent corn field continued to add to the already waist-deep water that held residents trapped. The sound of gas-powered chainsaws cutting through damaged tree limbs mingled with the throaty calls of bullfrogs that could be seen swimming in the runoff.
“To tell you the truth, this was worse than (Hurricane) Dolly,” said one man, who asked not to be identified.
“In Dolly, the trailers weren’t flipped over and, pos, this time, the trailers were flipped over. A lot of poles are down, and trees,” he said.
Next to him, his wife added that their vehicles had been damaged by the flooding, and that nearly all of the trees in their yard had broken beneath the strain of winds that reached 50 miles per hour. The pair, who live on the west side of town, had made the trek through the flooded Cielo Lane on foot to borrow power tools from relatives in order to begin the cleanup effort.
Just before noon, the first of four vacuum trucks had arrived on the scene to begin pumping water out of the neighborhood.
John Franz, investigator with the Hidalgo County Fire Marshal’s office said the water would be released in canals that still have capacity. “They’re moving it to other canals and whatnot that still have some space and they’re evacuating it that way,” he said.
In the wake of last June’s catastrophic flood, both municipal and Hidalgo County officials have made concerted efforts at improving local drainage systems in the region. Some 40 projects are slated for completion throughout the county thanks to a $190 million bond which voters approved in November 2018.
Yet, just a little farther south along Farm-to-Market Road 1015, an irrigation canal was overflowing its banks on Mile 16 North and venting water directly into the Casa Messina apartment complex.
In Monte Alto, the married couple wondered why local drains were at a standstill. “They’re not running. None of them are running,” the wife said.
Franz said Monday’s rain event puts the county’s improvement efforts to the test, and helps officials learn where more work needs to be done. “I think we’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “We get an event like this and it puts it to the test, and if we need to adapt and if we need to, you know, vector in a different direction, this is what lets us know that.”