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Southern California Researchers Help Tijuana Residents Prepare For Rains

A researcher hands out information on preparing for floods in Los Laureles, a canyon in Tijuana, Dec. 15, 2015.
Jean Guerrero
A researcher hands out information on preparing for floods in Los Laureles, a canyon in Tijuana, Dec. 15, 2015.
Southern California Researchers Help Tijuana Residents Prepare For Rains

Southern California researchers have teamed up with Mexican civil protection officials to prepare residents of flood-prone Tijuana canyons for the coming El Niño rains.

Southern California Researchers Help Tijuana Residents Prepare For Rains
FloodRISE is a UC Irvine-led project to decrease damage from coastal floods in Southern California, in part by working with residents of flood-prone Tijuana neighborhoods.

The bi-national effort is part of FloodRISE, a UC Irvine-led project that aims to decrease damage from coastal floods in Southern California.

“We’re working with the community to better understand what the flood risk is in this location,” project manager Kim Serrano said.

Researchers are creating computer models of flood-prone areas in Tijuana to measure how risks change in different scenarios, Serrano said. In the meantime, they’re working with Tijuana’s civil protection agency to educate people who live in high-risk areas of the city.

Earlier this week, they met in Los Laureles, a canyon of makeshift neighborhoods directly south of the border. It is one of the most vulnerable areas of Tijuana during heavy rains, with frequent mudslides and flooding.

Trash and sediment from this canyon pour directly into the Tijuana River Valley on the U.S. side of the border, at a lower elevation, causing pollution and flooding problems for residents of southern San Diego County.

Canyon residents were told to reinforce their roofs and to keep an emergency backpack filled with canned foods, a flashlight and other items.

Above all, researchers emphasized the need to stop throwing trash in ditches, a common practice that blocks the flow of water and increases the risk of flood.

“It’s better to work at the origin of the problem than waste human and material resources only on mitigating the effects on the U.S. side,” said Ana Eguiarte, community liaison for the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, which is working with UC Irvine on this project.

Isis Rivera, an instructor for Tijuana’s civil protection agency, was also at the session.

She said the agency has only 21 employees, including those with administrative duties. The lack of staff is the reason it’s so important for residents to be prepared to deal with emergencies on their own, she said.

Los Laureles resident Sandra Mariscal said she learned a lot from the session. The now 41-year-old woman recalls that heavy rains hit the canyon more than 30 years ago, destroying her childhood home. She said her brother carried her out of the house, waist-deep in water.

“He saved me,” Mariscal remembered.

She said her main takeaway from the session was that the lives of her children and her own life are more important than her material belongings, so if a flood comes she must evacuate and leave everything behind without a thought.

“We work hard for our material belongings, but what is most important is our children,” she said.

Residents filled out questionnaires to evaluate the degree of their individual risk, based on construction materials and exact location of their houses, among other things.

Floods in the 1990s left thousands of Tijuana residents homeless.