Storm, Smugglers Open Big Gaps in Border Fence

Tuesday, 29 Jul 2014 10:22 AM

By John Blosser

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Nature and smugglers combined to open two huge gaps in the border fence between the United States and Nogales, Mexico, last weekend, causing the U.S. Border Patrol to scramble to cover the security breaches until they can be prepared.

Roughly 60 feet of the fence — which stood 18 to 26 feet high and was made of steel, concrete, and reinforcing rods — near the Mariposa entry point was flattened when debris and flooding from a heavy rainstorm put more pressure on the fence than it was designed to withstand, the Associated Press reported. The fence extends seven feet underground.

While the monsoon-type flood raged, smugglers used the opportunity to cut eight beams in the fence nearby, using precision tools in an estimated four-hour effort to open up a hole big enough to drive a truck through, Nogales International reports.

The collapse occurred because floodgates located at the bottom of the fence, designed to let water pass through, did not open, according to Buzzfeed. Nicole Ballistrea, spokeswoman for the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector, told Buzzfeed, "The late hour and sudden onset of the storm did not allow adequate lead time for agents to safely release the gates."

Cameras and additional patrols will fill in the security gap until the fence can be repaired.

"Resources have been deployed to the area until the fence is repaired. Our technology assets such as cameras are also able to assist us," she said. "Contractors have assessed the damaged section of the fence and are developing a plan to initiate repairs."

John Hays, floodplain coordinator for the Santa Cruz County Flood Control District, told the AP that the flood "had a lot of water behind it, and it just pushed the fence straight down. If your fencing is tight enough to catch debris, it basically becomes a dam. It's not meant to withstand those loads of water."

Hays said he does not yet have a damage cost estimate.

Nogales International quoted a spokesman for Granite Construction, the firm that erected the fence in 2011, as saying it would take about four hours, or 16 separate cuts at about 15 minutes per cut, to open a hole that size.

"As the Tucson Sector continues to improve deterrence efforts along the border, smuggling organizations are finding it more difficult to move their illicit goods into the interior of the United States," Ballistrea wrote in an email to Nogales International (NI). "Fencing infrastructure gives Border Patrol agents the time they need to stop illegal cross-border activity."

NI reports that the 2.8-mile section of fence cost $11.8 million to build.

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