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TX in 'desperate need'

One Texas disaster responder is estimating that flooding damaged at least 300 homes around the El Paso area.

BY HEATHER MOYER | EL PASO, Texas | August 7, 2006

One Texas disaster responder is estimating that flooding damaged at least 300 homes around the El Paso area - and that's just the beginning.

The Rev. Fernando Sanchez said he's having a difficult time finding out just how many people and homes were affected by a full week of heavy rains and flooding at this point, but knows that many people are in need.

"There's three to four feet of mud inside many homes," said Sanchez, disaster response coordinator for the northwest district of the Rio Grande Conference of the United Methodist Church. "These families really need help."

Sanchez is coordinating some relief efforts around El Paso and the neighboring towns of Socorro, Canutillo and Venton. More than 15 inches of rain have fallen in the region since July 27, causing major flooding and mudslides. "This situation is critical," he explained. "Nobody here was prepared for this, nothing like has happened in at least 40 years. People desperately need help. They are scared and don't know what to do or where to go for help."

The situation is even worse across the border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where Sanchez said he is also trying to lend a hand. The damage estimates in the border town are staggering, with as many as 40 "colonias" destroyed.

"If you estimate that about 500 people live in each one of those neighborhoods, that's at least 20,000 people we're talking about. And some of those poor neighborhoods have more people than that. The houses there weren't built well, so they did not survive the flooding. People lost everything."

He said the Mexican government does not have the resources to help these families, so he is working with local and regional churches to get assistance.

Sanchez has been in touch with Church World Service and the United Methodist Committee on Relief, saying he's requested flood buckets, health kits and volunteers.

The damage isn't all from water either. The whole region is very mountainous and when the rain falls, said Sanchez, down comes the mud and rocks. "People need a truck or a jeep to get around and some areas are closed off," said Sanchez.

Reports from the Texas Division of Emergency Management show that the west side of El Paso appears to be hardest hit, but the damage is spread across the county. Three shelters remain open. The governor requested a federal disaster declaration for El Paso County.

Nerves ran higher on Friday when El Paso officials evacuated more than 1,500 people due to an eroding dam in Ciudad Juarez. Those residents were allowed to return home late Friday once the stress on the dam was lessened by pumping out water.

This week's forecast includes slight chances of rain each day.

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