HARLINGEN — Across Cameron County, residents are calling on officials to upgrade drainage after widespread flooding rushed into homes and businesses, turning streets into gushing streams.

In Harlingen, more than six inches of rain flooded much of the city late Friday afternoon, rushing into some homes and businesses in the city’s core.

At City Hall, Assistant City Manager Carlos Sanchez described the storm as a rain event with a frequency of 100 to 500 years.

“That amount of rain in a short amount of time quickly overwhelmed the drainage system,” Sanchez, a hydraulic engineer, said. “What we saw in Harlingen, it showed the drainage system was functional. Within four to six hours the majority of the water had already drained. That told us there was no blockage in the system.”

Sanchez said officials are funding a multimillion-dollar project to widen the storm sewer system from Jackson to Taft Avenues while working on a project to develop a detention pond in the hard-hit Fair Park area.

“We are continuing improvements,” he said.

Engineer blames region’s drainage system

But J.V. Garcia, a civil engineer who sits on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, called it a 10-year storm, noting the city has upgraded its standards to protect against 25-year storms.

“This is more evidence current drainage standards do not work,” he said.

Garcia called on the region’s leaders to upgrade the drainage system.

“It’s improper development for decades, and we continue to do the same thing,” he said. “We continue to build subdivisions improperly without adequate drainage infrastructure. New subdivisions are flooding existing subdivisions. There’s no maintenance and there’s no coordination between interlocal government agencies and there is zero accountability for who is responsible.”

Downtown homes, businesses flooded

In the downtown area, property owner Bill DeBrooke said the storm flooded homes and businesses, turning the 300 block of Jackson Avenue into “a lake.”

“I’ve never seen it that high,” he said. “People got flooded. It went doorway to doorway. In the middle of the street it was several inches deep.”

The storm spawned flooding from the Madison Avenue and Commerce Street areas to Monroe and Van Buren Avenues, he said.

“The water built up. There was no where for it to go. Something was blocking it,” he said. “Some of the drains are as small as 12 to 18 inches.”

DeBrooke called on officials to build a detention pond in the area.

“The water comes out of downtown last,” he said, referring to city’s drainage.

Since about 2018, more storms have flooded parts of the city, pounding the downtown area.

“We haven’t had this kind of problem in the downtown since the 1990s,” DeBrooke said. “It started a couple of years ago when we started having these horrific events. Something’s got to change. If this keeps up, why would anyone want to be in business in the downtown?”

More than six inches of rain flooded much of Harlingen late Friday afternoon, rushing into some homes and businesses in the city’s core. Courtesy: Robert Leftwich

Flooding leads San Benito to plan drainage upgrades

In San Benito, the storm dumped more than six inches of rain, driving floodwaters into some homes, rising high in areas including the new Liberty Estates subdivision and old the La Gallina neighborhood.

After a series of summer storms spawned flooding, Mayor Rick Guerra’s planning to dip into the city’s $9.6 million share of the American Rescue Plan Act to fund drainage upgrades.

“We’re working to see what kind of remedy we can find for this kind of flooding — what can we do to reduce it,” Guerra said after driving through floodwaters late Friday afternoon. “We need to look to see if canals are draining properly.”

In the La Gallina neighborhood, floodwaters rose as high as four feet in the Ballenger and Bowie streets areas.

“There are maybe a couple of businesses that get flooding,” he said. “The water was almost to my calves. I was in the yards. If you went on the streets, you’re talking three feet — below the waist.”

Across much of the county, cars stalled in the high water.

In the La Gallina area, floodwaters rose inches away from a stalled car’s windows, Guerra said.

At McCullough Street, waters rose as high as two feet near the railroad tracks, he said.

“There were some cars stalled,” he said.

At the Resaca Vista subdivision, neighbors bought piles of sandbags to try to protect their homes, resident Mike Frazier said.

“We deployed our sandbags,” Frazier, a community leader, said, referring to sandbags neighbors bought weeks ago to try to protect their homes from the next flood.

The piles of sandbags stopped floodwaters from rushing into neighbors’ garages, he said.

“It was way up the fire hydrants,” he said. “It wouldn’t have gone into the homes — it would have gone into the garages.”

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