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Tijuana’s Migrants Suffering In El Niño Storms

More than 1,000 migrants received blankets at a Tijuana shelter this week as rains soaked the homeless, flooded streets, increased traffic and caused drainage canals to swell with rushing water.

Photo caption:

Photo by Jean Guerrero

Volunteers hand out blankets at Desayunador Salesiano, a Tijuana migrant shelter, Jan. 6, 2016.

More than 1,000 migrants received blankets at a Tijuana shelter this week as rains soaked the homeless, flooded streets, increased traffic and caused drainage canals to swell with rushing water.

Every night this week, Gerardo Nuñez has been wrapping himself up in a trash bag to keep the heavy rains from soaking him while he sleeps.

Nuñez is a 48-year-old Mexican who is homeless in Tijuana after he was deported from the U.S., where he lived since he was a child. He said he has three children in Montebello, a city in southeastern Los Angeles County.

He was one of about 1,200 migrants who received a thick wool blanket at a Tijuana migrant shelter called Desayunador Salesiano on Wednesday morning after eating a breakfast of chilaquiles and coffee.

Volunteers said they hoped the donated blankets would keep people warm during the El Niño rains, which have been flooding streets, increasing traffic and soaking Tijuana residents all week.

Photo by Jean Guerrero

Deported migrant Gerardo Nuñez receives a blanket at a Tijuana migrant shelter, Jan. 6, 2016.

Nuñez said he sleeps on isolated hillsides in Tijuana. This week's downpours have presented a challenge.

“You get a plastic bag, a big trash bag, and you get in the bag,” Nuñez explained in perfect English, gripping his new blanket with one arm. “When it rains, you don’t get wet and you don’t get cold if it’s cold. And with the blanket, you’re OK.”

Nuñez wore a neatly trimmed goatee, a striped collared blue shirt beneath a checkered black sweater vest and a leather jacket. His hair was gelled.

He said he has been trying to get his Mexican documents in order so that he can find a steady job in Tijuana, as well as a lawyer who can help him return to the U.S., which he considers home.

The undersides of bridges in Tijuana are crowded with homeless migrants like Nuñez.

Agustín Rubio, 51, was huddled beneath one such bridge Tuesday afternoon, asking passers-by for spare change to buy food.

“Yesterday, I was asleep, and the rain got my blanket all wet, but I wrapped myself up like a little caterpillar and I slept comfortably,” Rubio said.

Residents in raincoats sought cover under awnings and umbrellas throughout the city. But so far, the most affected by the storms are the city's homeless migrants.

On Wednesday, officials had reported dozens of car accidents tied to the rain, as well as a mudslide on the Ensenada-Tijuana highway that caused some traffic in the morning. No storm-related deaths had been reported by the afternoon.

Several people have been evacuated from vulnerable houses in scattered Ensenada locations. No evacuations had been reported in Tijuana on Wednesday afternoon.

In Los Laureles, a squatters canyon adjacent to the U.S.-Mexico border, drainage canals were swelling with chocolate-colored water. Cars skirted around rocks and boulders that had crumbled down into the roads of the canyon.

Los Laureles is among Tijuana’s most vulnerable to floods and mudslides because of the steep hills, but about 30 canyons have similar dangerous conditions when it rains.

The state of Baja California is bracing for more floods and mudslides as the week progresses.

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