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— Thirteen years later, Rosquillas was visiting a friend in local government on his day off. It was January 6, 1993, his 32nd birthday, and this time, the start of the worst floods of the '90s. At least 33 people died. "At the time, I was helping my sister run her restaurant in Chula Vista. But then the rains started, I volunteered, and a week later they asked me to accept a job with the local Civil Protection." That's when Civil Protection began in Tijuana. In the seven years since he has become its director, Rosquillas has fought to get basic equipment like computers, two-way radios, multiple phone lines, and meteorological-monitoring stations. "Even though we now have more [emergency] equipment in Tijuana than any city in Mexico [apart from Mexico City], our annual budget [$400,000] compared with San Diego's is very modest."

Rosquillas says he watched San Diego's Channel 10 news last week and couldn't help smiling at the contrast in scale. In San Diego, well-equipped organizations deal with rain-caused problems such as swollen streams and sagging walls.

"Here in Tijuana we have a small organization and big problems, such as no pavement on the streets of many colonias, no water, no sewage...we don't have storm-drains. Land use hasn't been [worked out]. We have industry and homes side by side. People here in Tijuana make their homes on the hills. That's a risk for a start. In San Diego they have very good control of all settlements and development. They have very good planning. We don't. Civil Protection has to take care of storm drains, we have to check construction [of new buildings, to check they are built according to code]. We have to coordinate the different agencies, we have to coordinate rescues."

And yet, San Diego's office of Emergency Management is only 3 people, far fewer than Tijuana's 15-strong organization. "Why?" says Rosquillas. "Because San Diego's water authority, public works office, firefighters, police, city, all have their own offices for emergency provisions. So they do all the work in each office. In Mexico we don't have that culture.

"Here in Tijuana I see meetings, urban-planning symposiums, but I never see any topic on disaster-prevention. The architects, the people in charge of planning, they never talk about the possibility of disaster in the city. In Japan, in the U.S., England, Germany, France, they talk about the need for a safe city. They started working that way in Mexico City after their [1985] earthquake. But that attitude isn't yet here in Tijuana. They don't invite me to development meetings. They think that Civil Protection is something to confront an emergency, not to prevent it. It's not the mayor; he's great. It's the system. We have to break the inertia.

"Right now I'm talking to different government department directors, and I'm asking them, 'Hey, let me be a part of the planning to [help] make the rules. But if I am only going to be responsible just to attend to the emergency when it happens, you have to be responsible for preventing the emergency in the first place.' "

Chris Bach, San Diego's Civil Defense Emergency Management coordinator, admits his organization is much bigger, better equipped, better funded, and part of a pervading "prevention mentality" in city hall. "San Diego is a very large jurisdiction, and the fact is we can bring resources to bear, and when we get involved in something, a lot of times we throw the world at it." In the 1993 floods they sent 38 bulldozers and other heavy equipment to Tijuana to help the city shore up against floodwaters. "We don't come up short in those instances." He says he has a high respect for Rosquillas and his organization. "They have a lot of expertise down there. There are a lot of professionals working in Antonio's organization."

But when it comes to working together, Bach says a 1996 bomb incident at Tijuana's Rodríguez Dam illustrates the problems. "In the past, one of the problems we've encountered is that some of the decisions that impact the local Tijuana jurisdiction are made in Mexico City. It slows down the process. In this instance there was a suspicious package reported on the face of the dam. It was reported as an act of terrorism, and there was supposedly a bomb there. And the federales came in and closed the whole thing off. The locals weren't even in the loop on what was going on. And the decisions that were made to mitigate that problem were all being made in Mexico City." According to then-city manager Jack McGrory, "It took [Mexico] eight or nine hours to notify us."

San Diego authorities had legitimate cause to be concerned. "If Rodríguez Dam were to be blown [up], [the resulting flooding in Imperial Beach] would exceed the 100-year flood we had in 1916," Carolyn Powers of the Tia Juana River Valley County Water District told reporters in March 1996. In the 1916 flood, she said, sections of Imperial Beach and Palm Avenue were under eight feet of water.

"One thing is sure," Bach says. "If [a similar incident] ever happened in the city of San Diego, we would not turn it over [to federal authorities]. It would be ours."

"The Rodríguez Dam is one of the most dangerous dams in Mexico," acknowledges Rosquillas, "because of the high concentration of population downstream. If the Rodríguez Dam is full, and we have an earthquake, and the dam fails, if it breaks completely, it will be a total disaster. Although, if they have to open the gates, the channel was constructed to receive the water from seven open gates in the dam." But, he says, Tijuanans also have to keep a wary eye on U.S. dams. "You have Morena Reservoir and Barrett Lake [in San Diego County]. If earthquakes ruptured their dams, those waters [would smash through] Tijuana before they return to the United States in San Ysidro."

* * *

Celso Rodríguez points the Lariat up Quick-Death Canyon (Cañón del Matadero). We bounce past a basketball court on the verge of collapse. Raging floodwaters have eaten out the rubble beneath one whole corner. A hilltop house exposes its foundations where the land has fallen away. This time we're responding to a colonia shop-owner's plea. A wall of mud is shunting her entire shop forward. Just before tackling the steep boulder-strewn slope, Rodríguez stops to engage the four-wheel-drive again. You suddenly get a view through the hills to San Diego, the Coronado Shores condos, Point Loma. It looks like a pastel painting, a dreamland. But Rodríguez is too busy to notice.

As of Tuesday, Dorotea Garay's house was still standing, but Rosquillas expects more storms this weekend.

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