RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas — Upstream communities on Friday began to assess the damage wrought by a Rio Grande that jumped its banks in the Texas city of Laredo, while down river people marveled warily at a river that bore little resemblance to the lazy waterway that usually divides border cities.
The Rio Grande continued rising in the city that bears its name to more than three feet above flood stage, according to the National Weather Service. The river was expected to rise a least another two feet to more than 55 feet.
Longtime residents said they had not seen the river reach these heights since Hurricane Beulah in 1967. The difference so far is that the area received little rain from the tropical depression that came ashore Thursday near the mouth of the Rio Grande.
Hugo Canales enjoyed a pleasant breeze and a break in the gray clouds from a swing in his front yard. Normally the seat affords him a view of the onion and grain fields below. On Friday, it was a vast expanse of brown water, broken only by a green tree line more than a half-mile away that usually marks the edge of the Rio Grande.
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City Manager Juan Zuniga hoped that the lack of rain would stave off any threat of serious flooding.
"If we get any substantial rain, that will cause problems for us," Zuniga said. His more-pressing concern was how much water would be released from the Falcon Dam upstream.
The International Boundary and Water Commission more than doubled the amount of water passing through Falcon on Thursday, and Zuniga waited to hear if it would be increased again.
The other factor was how much water would enter the Rio Grande from Mexico through the Rio San Juan. A Mexican reservoir not far from the border across from Rio Grande City has a spillway that does not allow authorities to control how much water leaves once it tops the barrier.
Downstream, Hidalgo County issued a voluntary evacuation recommendation for the small community of Los Ebanos on Friday afternoon. It sits on a small knob of land surrounded on three sides by the Rio Grande and is not protected by levees.
In Laredo, where roughly half of all U.S.-Mexico trade crosses, authorities on Friday reopened one of the international bridges on the northwestern edge of the city, but one downtown bridge remained closed and a second was severely restricted. The vehicle inspection station on the Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, side was under several feet of water.