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Apr-22-2010 19:12printcomments

Mexicali/San Luis Rio Colorado News: The Border Recovers from a Big Blow

Prone to earth movements, the Mexicali area straddles the San Andres, Imperial, Cerro Prieto, Laguna Salada and other faults.

Mexico earthquake

(LAS CRUCES, N.M.) - More than two weeks after a 7.2 earthquake struck the Baja California/Sonora border region, residents are still assessing damages, attending to emergency repairs and coping with the nerve-rattling effects of thousands of aftershocks.

In Mexicali, tens of thousands of students were expected to begin returning to classes on April 19.

In response to the Easter Sunday quake, Mexico’s Interior Ministry declared Mexicali and Tecate in Baja California and three nearby municipalities in the neighboring state of Sonora disaster areas eligible for financial assistance from the federal government’s emergency relief fund. Upwards of 7,000 people were reported to have sought shelter in emergency centers set up in Baja California and Sonora. Reportedly, as many as 35,000 people were impacted one way or another by the big quake.

In an e-mail to Frontera NorteSur, a resident of the town of Luis B. Sanchez, Sonora, described crumbling abode walls and overhanging porches, lost power and water service, traffic congestion and scarce water supplies after the ground shook on April 4.

“Everyone slept outside under trees, tents or inside SUVs,” wrote Max Curiel. “A false rumor was started that water was going to inundate us coming from El Golfo Santa Clara.”

The earthquake resulted in the deaths of two people and injuries to 230 others. In Baja California, at least 250 businesses and 5,000 homes were damaged; nearly 600 houses were destroyed in the state capital of Mexicali. An estimated 90 miles of rural roads along with two bridges likewise sustained damages.

From Sonora, media dispatches reported damages to at least 109 houses and 123 schools. Government buildings, water delivery systems and waste water infrastructure were damaged. Fires also broke out in commercial buildings in a two-block area of downtown San Luis Rio Colorado. Initial damages to the tune of $50 million were pegged in the state of Sonora alone.

Especially hard hit was the important agricultural industry in both the Mexicali and San Luis valleys. Broken canals, damaged wells and other disruptions to the irrigation system jeopardized about 75,000 acres of cropland.

“The major part of the hectares impacted correspond to plantings of wheat and alfalfa with an estimated value of $18 million,” said Florencia Diaz Armenta, director of the northeast basin region of Mexico’s National Water Commission.

Provoking the collapse of land and an infusion of salinity, the quake cast renewed attention on long-running environmental controversies. A researcher for the Autonomous University of Baja California, Jesus Adolfo Roman Calleros, linked “indiscriminate” extractions of sub-soil vapors by the government-run Cerro Prieto geothermal plant to the phenomena of land collapse and salinity that emerged after the quake.

According to Roman, the added doses of salinity are bound to cause extra headaches for area farmers. Considerable damage was also experienced in Mexicali’s sister city of Calexico, California. After the city’s water plant was damaged, authorities urged citizens to conserve the vital liquid. Invoking his authority, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared the Imperial Valley a disaster area. In a stroke of solidarity, he declared California would supply Baja California with 44 generators and thousands of cots, blankets and pillows.

Due to safety concerns, all of Calexico’s schools were shut down until further notice.

“California Emergency Management Agency (CalEMA) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are assisting in the recovery process,” said a statement issued by the Calexico Unified School District. “The District is working with these two agencies to assure that it meets the State and Federal criteria for the recovery process…”

If Calexico’s residents didn’t have enough to worry about getting their lives back in order, they soon had to grapple with scam artists. Local authorities warned of loan sharks leaping from their murky sloughs and unethical contractors telling prospective customers services would be reimbursed by FEMA. The city of nearly 40,000 people was slammed by the earthquake at a time of state budget cuts and double-digit unemployment.

As April wore on, a variety of government and civil society organizations on both sides of the border mobilized their forces and resources. In Mexicali, the Canacintra business association embarked on an internal membership campaign to raise about $70,000 for earthquake victims. To get a battered economy back up and running, Baja California’s state government requested Mexico City temporarily forgive tax collections.

Prone to earth movements, the Mexicali area straddles the San Andres, Imperial, Cerro Prieto, Laguna Salada and other faults. Major earthquakes rattled the zone in 1892 and 1930. Writing from the Sonora, Max Curiel was optimistic his town would pull through a tough time. “We will come out of this wiser and stronger,” Curiel wrote. “We are a resilient people. Let’s see what the local representatives that promised so much are going to do for the people and the town…”



Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

Additional sources:

La Voz de la Frontera, April 17 and 19, 2010. Articles by Nancy Vasquez and Alma R. Burciaga, April 17, 2010
Frontera, April 17, 2010
El Universal, April 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 17, 18, 2010. Articles by Julieta Martinez, Marcelo Beyliss and Rosa Mendez
La Jornada, April 6, 7, 11, 17, 2010. Articles by U. Gutierrez, L. Ramos and Notimex
El Diario de El Paso, April 9, 2010. El Sur/Agencia Proceso, April 7, 2010.

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