Cities struggle to drain floodwater

Cities struggle to drain floodwaters

PALM VALLEY — The worst storm many residents here remember has driven floodwaters into about 80 percent of homes surrounding the Harlingen Country Club.

Like many of his neighbors, Mayor George Rivera remains flooded out of his home after a Monday night into early Tuesday morning storm dumped more than 12 inches of rain in about four hours here.

“About 80 percent of homes have some sort of water damage,” Rivera said late yesterday afternoon. “It’s probably the worst disaster in the history of our city.”

Early Tuesday morning, police officers and county crews used a river boat to rescue 50 residents from neighborhoods where floodwaters rose as high as six feet, Rivera said.

“We’ve had some residents who haven’t been able to get back into their homes,” Rivera said.

“Our elderly residents have told me they’ve never seen anything like this — not even Buelah was as bad,” he said, referring to the epic hurricane whose widespread flooding ravaged the region in 1967.

But Rivera did not blame Cameron County Drainage District No. 5’s drainage system, which drains an area stretching from Palm Valley to Interstate 69 near Wilson Road.

The flooding comes about three years after county officials completed a $5 million project to improve the drainage system.

“This was the perfect storm,” Rivera said. “I’m not sure if we would have spent $100 million it would have helped, with so much water in such a short time. But do we need more improvements? Absolutely.”

North Harlingen

Across north Harlingen, residents continued to struggle as floodwaters slowly drained.

Outside Luis Avila’s door, floodwaters cover the Interstate 69 frontage road like a river.

From as far west as Palm Valley, floodwaters flow into the I-69 frontage road area, where cars remained submerged.

“Every time it floods, I’ve got to worry about my employees and their safety. People have lost cars. It affects people’s livelihoods,” Avila, branch service manager at the Penske Truck Rental, said. “We’ve been here for 10 years and it’s always the same issue. This is one of the worst ones. We got water in the facility this time. It’s a low-lying area but there’s no drainage for water to go anywhere.”

Like Palm Valley, the I-69 frontage road area also drains into the Drainage District No. 5’s system, Carlos Sanchez, Harlingen’s assistant city manager, said.

“There is a drainage system there — it’s overwhelmed,” Sanchez said. “There’s a lot of area that flows into that location. The canals are pretty flat so it’s slow-draining.”

Along the frontage road, a car remained submerged near Airs Company, where owner Bo Boykin said the storm marked the third time his business has flooded since it opened in 1989.

“It’s a problem in this area with the drainage issue,” Boykin said.

In the city’s Harlingen Heights business district, floodwaters covered part of the parking lot outside the $16.7 million Harlingen Convention Center, which opened in May.

“It didn’t affect the building or the docking area,” Sanchez said.

For the large area, Drainage District No. 5’s system “is no where near large enough,” he said.

Pumping water

Across Harlingen’s northern edge, city officials turned to pumps to drain floodwaters out of neighborhoods.

By yesterday morning, crews were pumping floodwaters out of the Spanish Acres subdivision, located north of town, Sanchez said.

“We had some homes that saw water inside,” he said. “We had street flooding. It’s a low-lying area.”

Sanchez said crews pumped about 1.5 feet of water from the area of Barcelona, Buena Vista, Marchita and La Paloma Avenue.

By late yesterday afternoon, the subdivision’s streets remained covered with about six inches of water, he said.

Next, crews worked with Precinct 4 County Commissioner Gustavo Ruiz’s staff to pump floodwaters out of the Hickory Oaks Subdivision off Bass Boulevard, city spokeswoman Irma Garza stated.

“Based on the quantity of rain and the (size) of the area, it takes time but water is subsiding,” Sanchez said.