A man drowned while trying to cross the swollen Tijuana River on the U.S. side of the border amid heavy rains overnight Tuesday, according to the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.
The man, who was identified by the Medical Examiner's office as a migrant from West Africa, was face-down in the knee-deep river for about 30 minutes before rescue crews arrived to Dairy Mart Road and Camino de la Plaza at about 1:30 a.m., according to information from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, SDFD Battalion Chief Kyle Kutzke said.
The ME's office said the man was part of a group that became separated while crossing the Tijuana River. A group member saw the man attempt to get out of the river and flagged down a U.S. Border Patrol agent for help, but crews were unable to reach him without the help of the SD swift water rescue team, according to the ME.
Rescuers shifted their efforts to a recovery mission and had the man pulled out of the riverbed within 10 minutes, Kutzke said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
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It was not immediately clear what efforts border patrol agents made to rescue the man before lifeguards arrived. The man's immigration status was also not known.
Video from the scene showed other people wet and sitting on the ground. The circumstances surrounding those individuals were also not known. No other injuries were reported by lifeguards.
The incident came amid heavy rains overnight from a slow-moving storm that were pummeling California. The storm finally reached the South Bay late Tuesday.
CBP says the number of rescues have been on the rise because the water levels have risen due to the storms. They are warning people of the dangers of crossing the border.
“In this current situation, with the big storm, the one we’re going through, the currents of the river are very strong, so they’re very unpredictable. There’s a lot of trash, there’s a lot of debris. It’s water that is very contaminated and so it is not worth it risking their lives and putting themselves through that," said Border Patrol Agent Gerardo Gutierrez.
“Every winter we see a lot trash come from Tijuana, obviously a lot of water," conservationist Oscar Romo said. “The situation is an example of what happens here every year, every time it rains."
Romo said the channel was built to prevent flooding but as a result, it moves quickly into the ocean.
"It’s extremely dangerous, most migrants don’t know the conditions here and they see this channel, which is not that big, however, it’s moving fast," Romo said. "With storms like this, the force of the water can drag a car, so a person has no chance of battling that current.”