EDITORIAL: Playing safe: Early sandbag distribution prepares more for storms

No major storms appear headed this way, but some Rio Grande Valley residents already have the sandbags they might need to fight the threat of floods.

The city of Brownsville last week handed out more than 9,000 sandbags to local residents as the hurricane season began. Local officials in other parts of the Valley should consider following the example.

Brownsville’s sandbag distribution was partnered with the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and the city’s Engineering and Public Works Department, and ran from Wednesday through Saturday at four city locations. In addition to the sandbags, residents received packets of information about the coronavirus and public measures to avoid or fight it.

Sandbags are in big demand when rains hit, since the low-lying Valley is prone to flooding. The bags help block high water from encroaching through doorways. The city began the early bag distribution about three years ago, officials said.

“(W)e just want to give the public an opportunity to be ready,” Martino Treviño, Brownsville’s assistant engineering and public works director, told staff writer Nubia Reyna.

Before then, the city handed out the sandbags when storms were approaching.

“(T)here would be lines, ….” Treviño said. “We don’t want that; we want to minimize the chaos and all that craziness.

On-demand distribution was problematic in other ways. While major storms usually form in the Atlantic Ocean, giving Valley residents a few days to prepare, sudden storms occasionally take the area by surprise, forcing residents to head to distribution centers — and local workers to fill and hand out the bags — during the downpour. Many residents would choose to do without the bags, or be unable to get them because their neighborhoods already were flooding.

In the past couple of years long, steady rains also have caused unexpected flooding, leaving residents without sandbags.

Earlier distribution is safer and more convenient. Residents won’t have to leave work or forgo other duties in order to wait in line for last-minute distribution. City and county workers also are freed up to handle more pressing duties instead of filling and handing out sandbags in the middle of the storm.

One justification for late bag distribution is their impermanence. The bags normally are made of plastic or canvas and are susceptible to puncturing. Canvas also can deteriorate once it’s exposed to the elements, so even the best-cared-for bags aren’t likely to last more than one storm season. Residents are advised, therefore, to take care of their bags and keep them dry when they are not blocking floodwaters.

Adequate preparation can go a long way toward reducing the chance of damage and loss when storms hit the Valley. Something as simple as getting sandbags early enough to have them in place before they are needed can help resist flooding that could damage homes or destroy furniture and other property.

It’s a simple step that can pay off by saving residents untold thousands in property damage. We hope early distribution becomes a Valley-wide routine.