EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Water from the Rio Grande was released into El Paso canals on June 5, and there have been several water rescues and body recoveries since.
“Nine recoveries” within the city, said Kris Menendez, captain of the El Paso Fire Department Water Rescue team. “Of those recoveries, two were recoveries, two of them were rescues, one of them was a CPR in progress — I do not know the outcome of that individual. … In the county, we have had three recoveries so far, so in total, we are at 12.”
Menendez and his team could be seen training for those water rescues and recoveries on Tuesday in an irrigation canal that runs along the river at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Some members of the rescue team jumped into the rushing canal water while others followed and either threw a rope or jumped in to “save” them.
The crew members also act as injured persons or drowning victims. As the rushing water sweeps them downstream, a team member jumps in to grab them while a crew waits with a basket downstream to pull them up.
Menendez said the number of rescues, and the recovery of drowning victims have been increasing annually for several years, something he expects to continue this year.
“This is one of the higher years we’ve seen. It seems like every year, though, it’s increasing more and more and more. Over the last three years, our numbers have gone up so all we are seeing is an increase, not a decrease. Nothing changed here; water’s flowing, headgates are here. The problem is that we have more people coming over, so our numbers are increasing,” said Menendez.
The headgates to which Menendez refers funnel the water through to the canal. However, the force of the water can push people into the gates, causing serious injuries and sometimes death.
“Head trauma; they hit their heads on the gates, on the concrete floor. There’s a lot of things that happen besides drowning, a lot of trauma goes into when they come to these heads gates here,” Menendez said. “So it isn’t that they are jumping in right here, it’s just that the areas where they are jumping in seem very slow and very calm but when they get into it, they realize it’s not and get swept to a head gate.”