Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Flood relief for Jumano Apache on Texas/Mexico border

What happens in a international border zone between the US and Mexico when the floods come?

PHOTO April Cotte: September 28 This picture is taken from Presidio, Texas looking into Ojinaga, Mexico. The bridge in the middle is the Port of Entry and you can see that the Mexico Customs building is under water. Quite a mess. Please see news summary below from newspapers and locals on what has happened and how we can help. I am heading down to Redford, Texas, 10/25 from Calif., to work for OB and be of service and invite others to join me volunteering in disaster relief esp. 11/8-12.

By April Cotte
There has been major flooding in Jumano Apache territory in the Junta de los Rios area in Presidio, Ojinaga and Redford following Hurricane Gustav early September. For some 22 days, one third of the city of Ojinaga was underwater, the port of entry was closed between the US and Mexico and many of the farms in Redford, Presidio, Ojinaga and all along the Rio Grande and Rio Conchas were flooded. Elders say this was bigger then the floods of 58 or 78.
Until this week, hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes in Ojinaga, now they are cleaning up from flood damage. Fifty people in Presidio were evacuated to the elementary school gymnasium and just returned to their homes the first of October. The International Port of Entry between the US and Mexico just opened relieving the big challenge its closure caused for many people that depend on crossing the border for work, school, taking care of family, food shopping and buying medicine. The nearest hospital and pharmacy in the US is 2 hours away. Presidio's economy suffered a lot from closures of the Port of Entry and Farm Rd. 170 (tourism). They are planning an 18% property tax raise.
From my understanding, these floods did not take lives. They came in slowly and people had time and the capacity to evacuate and be safe. The one tragedy that we heard about was that 3 well liked and respected representatives of the IBWC from US and MX died in a plane crash while surveying the flooded areas of the Rio Conchas and Rio Grande.
RedfordIn Redford, people watched the floods with camping gear, food and water in their cars ready to drive into the hills. Many evacuated. One family brought half of the children in their care to different houses across the state and rented a hotel room so as many as possible could still go to school and study. The water filled the farms which are now called the Redford lake. Four cows actually got stuck in the middle of the giant body of water and were barely fed because no one had boats to navigate the white water conditions. Beautifully, on their island hideaway, two of the cows gave birth to two healthy calves.
There was incredible community support in response to this emergency with 40,000 + sand bags filled in Presidio and postmasters, border patrol agents, pharmacists and local officials collaborating to get medicine, mail and food to Redford residents via helicopter drops. Enrique said, "Strange to see the helicopters landing in Redford and all these soldiers jumping out then instead of shooting our children they start handing us food."
Concerns in Redford I've heard, are for the farmers and the children. The farmers don't know what they will find when the water in their fields goes down. Fences (necessary to protect crops from wild pigs) will most likely be ruined, pumps and irrigation lines gone or ruined, the fields will be flattened and need to be reworked... some people lost crops and hay bales. FEMA is taking notes on farmer's losses and there is talk of loans. But how can a farmer pay back a loan in the 14th poorest county in the US when they were barely making it on farming anyway?
The children may be paying the highest price. Due to flood damage on Farm Road 170 that connects Redford to Presidio, many of the Redford children missed 2 weeks of school. Now they are leaving at 6am to ride one hour to school, staying after for tutoring and riding one hour back at night to arrive home at 6pm exhausted and behind their classmates. Enrique Madrid, local historian said, "This is why we need the Redford school open. For now though, anything we can do to make it feel normal. We should have a halloween party for them because it has been so serious here." One teen said, "We almost got everything all messed up. We had to leave to Andrews and Presidio."
Levees and Levee Walls
Levees in Ojinaga failed. The Presidio levee barely held out with support from 40 thousand sand bags filled by volunteers, firefighters, politicians, border patrol agents, national guards people and prisoners. Thanks to those on this list who helped. Enrique said, "It is funny that they had prisoners from Fort Stockton who were illegal immigrants saving the levee in Presidio. Illegal immigrants saved the levee in Presidio that they want to use to build the wall to keep illegal immigrants out."
The Redford levee failed and is in ruins. Previous to this, many residents had concerns that $250,000 contracted out to an engineering firm for levee repair and $250,00 to slow flooding upstream in the arroyos in Redford would not work for flooding or irrigation. In this situation, they were correct. The ponds and levee failed.
In January, the Presidio mayor said that Presidio did not need a border wall for security but that a bigger concern was failure of Presidio levees during flooding and a New Orleans type disaster in Presidio and Ojinaga. He feared Ojinaga was particularly at risk and the US could help prevent that. Here we are.
Both the mayor of Presidio and some Redford farmers are asking the army corp of engineers and FEMA to rebuild the levees. This brings up questions among those that support Presidio County Commissioners, Presidio City Council and elected officials in their resolutions against the border wall. What would it mean for Army Corp of Engineers to rebuild these levees? Is that the same as DHS? Would the Redford levee then become Federal Government property that DHS could build into a wall?
The deaths of 3 high ranking regional IBWC officials is concerning because in the spring when DHS spokespeople were questioned about how we could be sure DHS levee wall plans would keep residents safe with the laws that protect us being waived, they said, local IBWdamnsC officials would have say on levee wall plans in Presidio.
The River is Flowing
From another perspective, the Rio Grande is alive, water is flowing in the desert. The dams continue freeing water to the people and ecosystems downstream. Enrique said, "Historically, Indians wanted the farms to flood because they depended on the floods. They would just go camp in the hills at that time. We are all stuck to our houses and highways and lights and we forgot how to be indians. If it didn’t flood it was a disaster not the other way around." One indigenous spiritual activist said, "we prayed in traditional ways by the nearly dry river and now there is water."
Needs from Redford/Presidio (as I understand it from afar)Write, call, email to encourage President George Bush to declare southern Presidio County a disaster area to bring in much needed assistance to farmers. Redford and much of south Presidio County was declared a disaster area by Governor Perry.
Tutors are needed for the Redford children year round and this summer and currently at the Presidio ISD to help children with homework
A team of engineers, farmers, lawyers to monitor the process to ensure the best support from FEMA is received by locals, to advise regarding FEMA, IBWC and DHS relationships and support these remote communities in planning the next steps to rebuild their economies.
Volunteers may be needed to help farmers reset fences and reclaim their fields. Many fields have been fallow for years, passed soil tests and just got rinsed so are ripe for organic certification but help is needed finding markets for crops or starting a CSA.
Redford could use about 10 cassette tape players with headsets for a reading program for the children
Long term needs will be amplified by the consequences of this disaster (see redfordtexas.blogspot.com)
Funding for El Polvo Women's Network - always helpful specifically now for things like: Supporting the farmers, gas for tutors from Alpine or Marfa, travel costs for watch dog team, activities for the children, gas for the Jumano Apache tribal chief to hold emergency meeting, application fee for a Redford youth at risk to attend a much needed Outward Bound Intercept course in January ($100). For the greater relief effort, I do not yet know of a funding channel yet.
Ojinaga and Rio Conchas watershed needs will be greater but we are not in communication yet
Thank you for following these stories. Your witnessing is very important and your prayers. This is the last thing these communities needed and yet, their resilience is incredible. Hopefully the recovery efforts will be successful enough that people are able to stay on their ancestral territory.
Locals, you have been in our thoughts and prayers. We have no idea what it has been like. Please correct me off list on anything I missed and send news.
I leave the 25th from the Bay Area and can offer great camping if anyone can come to volunteer. Nov. 8-12 are the best dates for me to work full days with you.
April Cotte
redfordtexas.blogspot.com (more information and paypal link)
Ruby Madrid
El Polvo Women's Network
General Delivery
Redford, Texas 79846

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