by Lisa Morgan –
The homes of approximately 1500 were flooded and significantly damaged Tuesday, September 11, when one of many thunder storms dumped enough water to flood a nearby dump and two neighboring sewer lagoons, sending a flash flood of toxic water through Desert Mobile Home Park also known as Duroville. The American Red Cross opened a temporary shelter late Tuesday at nearby Desert Mirage High School providing cots, blankets, showers, meals and toiletries. Only 30 people, mostly children, came to the shelter that night. Many others stayed behind fearing looting of their homes or deportation.
The American Red Cross is a humanitarian organization, not a government agency that during disasters helps those who need it regardless of their backgrounds. Per Regional Communications Manager, Daphne Hart, “While we (Red Cross) do request names and pre-disaster addresses, it is to track who is using our services. Our volunteers will not ask people for identification in order to stay in our shelters.” The Mecca Community Response Team (CERT), the Department of Social Services (DPSS) and the Mecca Community Center all worked together with the American Red Cross to gather resources and communicate information in order to provide services to the stricken community. The local Starbucks, Del Taco and Fantasy Springs Casino also contributed provisions for workers and flood victims. Still, this fairly significant event went largely unnoticed by local media until issues regarding alleged increases in border patrol at the shelter were brought to the attention of Rep. Mary Bono Mack and Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit. While local border patrol authorities claimed no specific targeting, those assisting with the shelter and some school staff members disagreed, saying they saw a dramatic increase of patrol cars in the parking lot and around the school. Subsequently, the number of the parks residence reporting to the Red Cross shelter dropped by 50%. Republican Representative Mary Bono Mack reportedly issued a letter to the White House on Thursday asking President Barack Obama and Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano to look into the issue.
Members of the local community outreach, Lideres Campesinas, who worked tirelessly alongside Red Cross workers, went door to door to check on residents and conditions at the park. Due to their efforts, the numbers admitted to the shelter for services rose to about 170 by Monday night. Still, this increase only represented little over 1/10 of the parks population. Health experts on site at the shelter kept track of any health issues including rashes and coughs and any signs of viral infection. As of Monday, September 18, twenty-one of those at the shelter, adults and children, complained of sore throats, low grade fevers and stomach ache.
As I write, the Duroville water pumps are in the process of repair and if all tests show the water is clear, the Red Cross will shut down the shelter. The few who have sought refuge at the shelter will return to homes with possible “black mold,” a toxic problem that can cause serious health issues and be carried from one person to another; homes where “black water” is coming up through the plumbing; homes that are surrounded by large amounts of polluted standing water. Farm workers, pregnant women, children and infants, some legal, some illegal residents, will try to rebuild what little they had to start with. In other circumstances, the Red Cross would be able to pull together with other organizations and continue helping this community. But due to the low “official” numbers of people who could be registered as affected by this event, Red Cross hands are somewhat tied.
Duroville, which sits on the Torrez Martinez Indian Reservation, is nicknamed for owner Harvey Duro, Sr., a member of the tribal council. Duro set the park up after several other sub-standard trailer parks in the area were closed by authorities in Riverside County and residents had no place to live. About 4,000 migrant Mexican farm workers live in several hundred dilapidated mobile homes on 40 acres. Litigation brought by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to have the park closed and its residents relocated was unsuccessful. In a decision rendered on May 1, 2009 U.S. District Judge Stephen G. Larson claimed that relocating them “would create one of the largest forced migrations in the history of this state.” He compared the resulting migration to Japanese-American relocations to Manzanar after the United States’ entry into World War II. The court did however recognize the deficiencies at the park, removed Duro from its management and appointed a receiver. The federal district court retains jurisdiction and continues to review the matter.*
It has yet to be seen what will and can be done in a situation that has gone, from terribly bad to horribly worse. The fears of a people trying to survive and keep their families together versus legalities, opinions and politics that seem to only generate stalemate and inaction, may be forced to reconcile somehow as this significant event of human suffering has the potential to affect the health and wellbeing of surrounding communities. Duroville is only 15-25 miles away from some of the most prestigious resorts in our beautiful Coachella Valley.
*Source: Wikipedia “Duroville”