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Water pours over Rio Grande levee, into Texas town
Border Flood DN101 5990369
Water flows over a levee from the Rio Grande flooding a golf course and some ranch land in Presidio, Texas, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008. No homes appeared immediately threatened by the flow. - photo by Associated Press

    PRESIDIO, Texas — The swelling Rio Grande flowed over a levee Wednesday, sending water cascading onto the golf course and some ranch land in this dusty-turned-muddy West Texas border town.
    The levee had not failed, said Presidio County Attorney Rod Ponton, but an area on the eastern end of Presidio was turned into a chocolate-brown reservoir marked by partially submerged trees, bushes and power lines. No homes appeared to be immediately threatened.
    A levee broke across the Rio Grande in neighboring Ojinaga, Mexico, where Presidio Mayor Lorenzo Hernandez said homes and other buildings have been inundated with up to 10 feet of water.
    Officials in Presidio, a town of 5,000 people about 250 miles down river from El Paso, have been watching the Rio Grande for nearly two weeks. Heavy rains and water releases from the flood-swollen Luis Leon Reservoir in Mexico pushed the Rio Grande over its banks, filling wide channels between the earthen levees on both sides of the border.
    By late Wednesday morning the river level had dropped slightly and Presidio officials were being told that water releases from the Luis Leon had been slowed, Ponton said. But he added that the city could remain threatened for several days after record water levels filled the wide channels between earthen levees on both sides of the border.
    ‘‘These levees are not designed to be dams,’’ Ponton said. ‘‘The water pressure could find a weakness.’’
    Low-lying parts of Presidio are under mandatory evacuation, but schools remain open even as the elementary school serves as a temporary shelter for about 80 displaced residents.
    Ponton said if the levee does break, low-lying parts of the city, including hundreds of homes, would be gradually swamped.
    ‘‘If it does go it could be the same effect as in Ojinaga,’’ Ponton said. ‘‘But we’re just talking about water gradually rising up ... making homes uninhabitable and roads impassable. It would rise slow enough that people would be able to leave.’’
    The flood threat had prompted officials in Presidio to go door-to-door urging people to leave. They made the same plea from a helicopter. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials also shut down the international bridge connecting Presidio to Ojinaga.
    Earlier this week, officials said the evacuation affected about 500 people in the Presidio area.
    Presidio Police Chief Marco Baeza said a few older residents living in low-lying areas have opted to stay.
    ‘‘One said, ’I’ve been here 58 years and nothing’s happened before and nothing’s going to happen now,’’’ Baeza said.
    The recent rains and flooding aren’t related to Hurricane Ike, which hit hundreds of miles to the east.
    Near Ojinaga, the search continued for a small plane carrying the U.S. and Mexican heads of the International Boundary and Water Commission. Four people were aboard the plane, which was reported missing Monday during a flight intended to give the officials a view of the floodwaters.
    The commission is responsible for maintaining border levees on the Rio Grande, which separates Mexico and the United States.

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