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El Paso’s Flooding Fears Ease

August 4, 2006

EL PASO, Texas (AP) _ An earthen dam that threatened to burst and send more than 6 million gallons of water into downtown El Paso was stabilized Friday after crews worked overnight to lower water levels, officials said.

Nearly 1,000 El Paso residents who had sought refuge in the city’s convention center Thursday were allowed to return home.

Officials said the aging dam across the U.S.-Mexico border became dangerously close to breaking and sending a tidal wave into the city of 580,000 after nearly a week of heavy showers swelled the Rio Grande.

Mexican officials said the dam was not at risk of overflowing, but authorities in Ciudad Juarez ordered more than 4,000 families to evacuate earlier this week as a precaution. Many families resisted, and faced being forced out.

Julie Baldwin, an El Paso spokeswoman, said crews were able to reduce water levels at the dam by 10 to 20 feet since Thursday night with the help of heavy-duty pumps and the construction of drainage culverts to divert overflow.

Officials still were watching 69 smaller dams throughout Ciudad Juarez.

Mexican federal officials declared Ciudad Juarez a disaster area and estimated damage there at $45 million. Damage on the U.S. side could reach $250 million, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said.

Gov. Rick Perry, Reyes and Texas’ U.S. senators have asked the federal government to declare a disaster area.

The El Paso area has received more than 8 1/2 inches of rain this year, almost all of it this week.

The rain swamped mountainside neighborhoods, caused flash floods and rocks slides, and led to the death of a construction worker hit by an out-of-control tractor-trailer on a flooded roadway in El Paso.

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