More Rain For El Paso, But Dam Is Safe

Forecasters expected more rain Saturday in the drenched El Paso area, where a week of storms forced hundreds of people from mountainside neighborhoods and caused flash floods and rocks slides.

A new round of evacuations was ordered Friday after a downpour flooded homes and streets around El Paso for the sixth straight day.

Nearly 1,000 residents who sought refuge in the city's convention center Thursday were allowed to return home Friday. Later, the convention center was closed and about 30 people were placed in hotels by the American Red Cross.

The downpour that forced residents in central El Paso and in outlying areas to seek emergency shelter came shortly after city officials rescinded a mandatory evacuation order for low-lying areas downtown.

The order was lifted after engineers determined that an earthen dam holding back more than 6 million gallons of water in Mexico was no longer an imminent threat.

City officials said emergency crews and National Guard troops helped rescue people stranded in the quickly rising waters.

Crews in Mexico had worked overnight Thursday to reduce water levels at the dam, which U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials said was dangerously close to bursting.

The corps had estimated that a break in the aging dam, holding water from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, could send up to 6 million gallons into El Paso in as little as three minutes. Mayor John Cook said it would be "like a tidal wave hitting El Paso."

Authorities in Ciudad Juarez evacuated more than 4,000 families living near the dam earlier in the week and were watching 69 smaller dams throughout the city.
Mexican federal officials declared the city a disaster area and estimated damage there at $45.5 million. Damage on the U.S. side could reach $250 million, said Rep. Silvestre Reyes.

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