- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 26, 2008

EDINBURG, TEXAS (AP) - South Texans eager to salvage what they can from waterlogged homes struck by Hurricane Dolly have another problem: The floodwaters they’re slogging through are laced with stinging fire ants, snakes and tarantulas.

The floodwater is laced with stinging fire ants, snakes and tarantulas.

“You don’t want to wade in this water,” state Health Services Commissioner David Lakey said during a visit to the Rio Grande Valley on Friday. “You don’t want to play in this water. You want to stay out of this water.”

It was timely advice, but residents in many neighborhoods with waist-deep water had little choice as they sifted through the mess left by the Category 2 storm that hit the eastern Texas and Mexico coasts Wednesday. In eastern Hidalgo County, as much as 12 inches of rain fell in six hours, turning neighborhoods into coffee-colored lakes.

Officials estimated it could take six weeks for the low-lying region to completely dry out and 118,000 people still had no electricity Friday morning. Emergency managers tried to assure people of help, and they asked for patience. They were beginning to pump water from some of the worst-hit areas and working to move water into floodways.

Residents were using backhoes to dig their own drainage canals and clear water from their property. But the water simply flowed into neighbors’ yards. Tempers among longtime neighbors were becoming strained.

Iliana Reyna, 34, was monitoring the floodwater’s rise to the second step of her front porch in Edinburg. Mrs. Reyna, her husband and three children waded into the water Friday to gather a few belongings and whatever dry goods were usable.

Suddenly, 4-year-old Adolfo, standing on the shoulder of the road in bare feet, screamed and began hopping. The other children scooped up water in their shoes and splashed it on his feet, while his father lifted him and brushed away the attacking ant.

“This is just too much for us,” said neighbor Arnold Silva, whose yard was flooded when another neighbor dumped water into it. It rose throughout the night carrying runoff from a cow pasture and “worms, spiders and ants.”

Fire ants and tarantulas - hairy spiders sometimes the size of a dinner plate - can deliver stinging, painful bites but are not deadly.

But water wasn’t the only danger. Illness also lurked in refrigerators, health officials said.

“If it doesn’t look right, doesn’t smell right, don’t eat it,” said Eddie Olivarez, Hidalgo County health administrator. He said inspectors were fanning out to restaurants to make sure they disposed of food properly as well.

Fewer than 200 people remained in shelters in Hidalgo County, down from a peak of nearly 3,300. But rescue crews in boats were still searching flooded neighborhoods and plucking people from homes.

Still, officials were relieved that no one died in the first hurricane of the season to hit the U.S. mainland. The storm brought 100 mph winds and broke July rainfall records in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, dumping a foot of rain in some spots.

The cleanup will be substantial: President Bush declared 15 counties in southern Texas disaster areas to release federal funding to them, and insurance estimators put the losses at $750 million.

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