Texas border town requests refrigerators to store migrant bodies after drownings overwhelm mortuaries

Migrants' bodies are pulled from the Rio Grande daily, fire chief says

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The surge in migrant drownings in Eagle Pass has "overwhelmed" local mortuaries and funeral homes, requiring the border town's fire department to request refrigerators to store bodies, the agency's chief told Fox News.

"There are so many bodies being recovered that the morticians are asking for assistance," Eagle Pass Fire Department Chief Manuel Mello III, said. "I had never seen so many drownings like we're seeing right now."

"We do a body recovery daily," Mello continued. "It's very traumatic for my personnel."

The Del Rio sector of the southern border has seen over 376,000 migrant encounters since October 2021, averaging out to nearly 1,100 per day, according to Customs and Border Protection. Across the entire border, there have been 1.8 million encounters over the past 11 months.

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Chief Manuel Mello points to a spot in the Rio Grande where the Eagle Pass Fire Department often recovers drowning victims' bodies. 

Chief Manuel Mello points to a spot in the Rio Grande where the Eagle Pass Fire Department often recovers drowning victims' bodies.  (Fox News Digital/ Jon Michael Raasch)

Two weeks ago, 13 migrants died and 53 others were apprehended while attempting 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 go above 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 recently died while crossing the river.

"We had a three-month-old baby, we had a three-year-old baby brother that passed away," Mello told Fox News. "The uncle was trying to cross, he fell into a deep hole in the river, let go of the babies."

The Yeager Barrera Mortuary in Eagle Pass, Texas. 

The Yeager Barrera Mortuary in Eagle Pass, Texas.  (Fox News Digital/ Jon Michael Raasch)

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"The babies drowned," he said.

When Mello joined the fire department over 25 years ago, there would be only 12 body recoveries a year. Now, there are about 30 a month, he said. 

"I don't see any end in sight," Mello said. 

"I would like to see the federal government jump in and help out in whatever way they can," the fire chief told Fox News. "If they could at least stop this migration, that would be awesome."

He said Maverick County, where Eagle Pass is located, is on pace to have 300 body recoveries this year.

Migrants crossing the Rio Grande into Eagle Pass, Texas.

Migrants crossing the Rio Grande into Eagle Pass, Texas. (Fox News)

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Eagle Pass has four ambulances and two reserve trucks, according to Mello. "But those four trucks, they get overwhelmed every single day," he told Fox News.

Mello said his office typically receives 7,000 emergency calls annually. 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, compared to less than 5,000 in fiscal 2019.

Customs and Border Protection agents process migrants who crossed into the U.S. through the Rio Grande.

Customs and Border Protection agents process migrants who crossed into the U.S. through the Rio Grande. (Fox News Digital/ Jon Michael Raasch)

The chief said the abnormally high amount of recoveries has taken a toll on his firefighters' mental health, resulting in staffing issues. Workers are taking more days off and are experiencing emotional breakdowns.

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"These are young gentlemen, young women are seeing more than any normal person would see in a lifetime," Mello said. "It's almost like a war zone."

As the weather in south Texas cools and hurricane season begins, Mello worries that more migrants will cross while the river in dangerous conditions.

"I would ask any government official to come and see what's going on down here in Eagle Pass," Mello said. "We've got a big issue here in Eagle Pass."