August 5, 2008

Ahumada proposes sheltering Matamoros residents during hurricane

August 5, 2008 - 10:03PM

BY EMMA PEREZ-TREVINO, The Brownsville Herald
Mayor Pat M. Ahumada Jr. proposed Tuesday - barring state or federal obstacles - to open shelters in Brownsville to Matamoros residents in the event of a Category 4 or 5 hurricane.

Ahumada, who as mayor oversees emergency management for the city, said Brownsville residents and their pets would be under mandatory evacuation because otherwise they would drown. The mayor then proposed that Matamoros residents, who decide not to evacuate to the south, would stand a better chance in Brownsville.

He also noted that the federal government sends personnel, equipment and funding to foreign countries to assist in disasters. "Why not take a proactive approach in assisting our sister-city?" Ahumada asked.

The mayor presented the proposal at Tuesday's City Commission meeting.

"We cannot ignore the fact that we have neighbors to the south," Ahumada told the commissioners.

"This is a proactive measure to save lives," he said, adding that if approved by state and federal authorities, Matamoros residents would be sheltered, "under a very controlled environment."

The mayor suggested that the Texas National Guard supervise the sheltering.

"I'm not reinventing the wheel," Ahumada said. He said that the international bridge between both countries and sister cities was opened during Hurricane Beulah, a Category 3 hurricane.

"Many people from Matamoros came and sought shelter here," he said and noted that they returned home after the hurricane.

"I think the footprint is there to do it," the mayor said, although he pointed out that there are a lot more regulations in place since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Ahumada said the proposal would be explored.

He also proposed converting trailers into ambulances for the evacuation of patients. He said evacuations could not be accomplished with the five ambulances available.

The mayor also proposed the use of diesel-generated pumps instead of electrical pumps. He said that the city airport sustained about $5 million in damages because, due to the lack of electricity, the pumps couldn't be used to drain water.

Ahumada also asked residents to be patient and said that brush and debris will be picked up.

"We just all have to be patient. Hopefully, we will have more people (contracted to work)," the mayor said.

Later in the evening, the commission was poised to consider an agreement with Cameron County or with a contractor for the removal and disposal of debris within city limits from Hurricane Dolly.

The mayor also proposed the construction of an adequate emergency command center with a kitchen, bedding and showers that could double as a satellite branch of the Brownsville Public Utilities Board.

The commission extended proclamations to the BPUB, City Manager Charlie Cabler and staff, and Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Johnston, thanking them for their response to Hurricane Dolly.

In other business, the commission gave its final approval to create the posts of deputy city manger and assistant city manager, bringing to two the number of assistant city manager slots.

Although the city manager makes the selections, the commission funds the positions. An allocation has not been made yet.

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