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Rio Grande Valley Buyout Moves Floodplain Residents Out of Harm's Way

CAMERON COUNTY, TX - In the summer of 2008 when Hurricane Dolly swamped the old neighborhood, now largely vacant ground, she unleashed nearly a foot of rain over Antonia Iberra’s old home, but nobody was home. In 2006, Antonia and most of her neighbors had moved out as part of a government floodplain acquisition program.

Most of what remains of Del Mar Heights today is only memories, and they are not good ones for Antonia.“It flooded there so much—oh, yes, it flooded every time it rained,” she said. “I suffered there for 17 years.”

When the government bought her house, Iberra recouped enough money to buy a better house, free and clear, in a safe neighborhood.

“We had built our own house there, from whatever we could find,” Iberra said from the shaded porch of her family’s pink-framed house. The pleasant neighborhood she lives in now is a far cry from the house in Del Mar Heights. Her husband, Moises, looks after a few black chickens in the backyard, and she cultivates flowers.

“It was all we had—that old house. Every time it rained, we could not get out. I had to put plastic bags on the shoes of the children and walk with them for a long, long way through the mud and the dirty water”—she measured up to her thigh to show the depth—“to try to get the bus to school. I had to carry the little ones. My husband is disabled. An ambulance could not get there when people were sick.”

Before the buyout, the residents of Del Mar Heights lived with chronic, contaminated flooding that trapped them in their isolated south Texas neighborhood in rural Cameron County, Texas. The unincorporated 300-acre tract is at the southernmost tip of Texas: 20 miles to the south is the Mexican border; 20 miles east is the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.

Last updated June 3, 2020