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EAGLE PASS, Texas – A spike in migrant drownings at Eagle Pass has “overwhelmed” local morgues and funeral homes, prompting firefighters in the border town to request refrigerators to store bodies, the agency’s chief told Fox News.
“There are so many recovered bodies that the undertakers are asking for help,” said Eagle Pass Fire Department Chief Manuel Mello III. “I had never seen so many drownings like we are seeing right now.”
“We do body recovery every day,” Mello continued. “It’s very traumatic for my staff.”
The Del Rio sector of the southern border has seen more than 376,000 migrant encounters since October 2021, averaging nearly 1,100 a day, according to Customs and Border Protection. Across the border, there have been 1.8 million encounters over the past 11 months.
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Two weeks ago, 13 migrants died and 53 others were apprehended trying to cross the Rio Grande into the United States, according to CBP.
“Sometimes you’ll be walking in an area where the water will never get past your knee, but all of a sudden you’ll have a drop of about 10, 12 feet,” Mello said of the RIo Grande. “If you’re carrying a baby, you’re going to go down 10 or 12 feet with that baby.”
He said several children have recently died while crossing the river.
“We had a three-month-old baby, we had a three-year-old little brother who passed away,” Mello told Fox News. “The uncle was trying to cross, he fell into a deep hole in the river, dropped the babies.”
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“The babies drowned,” he said.
When Mello joined the fire department more than 25 years ago, there were reportedly just 12 body recoveries per year. Now there are about 30 a month, he said.
“I don’t see any end in sight,” Mello said.
“I would love to see the federal government step in and help in any way I can,” the fire chief told Fox News. “If they could at least stop this migration, that would be great.”
He said Maverick County, where Eagle Pass is located, is on track to recover 300 bodies this year.
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Eagle Pass has four ambulances and two reserve trucks, according to Mello. “But these four trucks, they’re overwhelmed every day,” he told Fox News.
Mello said his office typically receives 7,000 emergency calls a year. But last year the department received 8,500 calls and is on track to hit that same figure again this year.
Since October, CBP has conducted nearly 19,000 search and rescue efforts, up from less than 5,000 in fiscal year 2019.
The chief said the unusually high number of recoveries had taken a toll on the mental health of his firefighters, leading to staffing issues. Workers take more days off and experience emotional breakdowns.
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“These are young gentlemen, young women see more than any normal person would see in their lifetime,” Mello said. “It’s almost like a war zone.”
As the weather in South Texas turns colder and hurricane season begins, Mello fears more migrants are crossing the river in dangerous conditions.
“I would ask any government official to come see what’s going on here at Eagle Pass,” Mello said. “We have a big problem here at Eagle Pass.”