While Mother Nature was tearing a hole in the border fence west of Nogales, human hands were at work on the other side of town cutting a gap in the barrier the size of a garage door.
Someone cut through eight poles in the border fence approximately 1-1/4 miles east of downtown Nogales, apparently using a precision tool to slice through the six-inch steel tubes filled with concrete and a strand of rebar.
The cuts were made at the bases of the poles and about 10 feet above the ground, creating a gap that appeared large enough to drive a medium-sized vehicle through.
The cuts were discovered on Saturday, according to Border Patrol spokeswoman Nicole Ballistrea, the same day monsoon runoff and debris toppled a section of the border fence west of the Mariposa Port of Entry.
By Monday morning, contractors were using blowtorches and metal clamps to repair the fence. This reporter saw agents in vehicles making their usual patrols along the access road next to the border fence, but there appeared to be no special contingent designated to protect the breach.
No tools were found at the site and the Border Patrol does not yet know who cut the fence, Ballistrea said.
Smugglers often attempt to cut border fences, as well as dig under them and climb over them, she wrote in an emailed statement.
“As the Tucson Sector continues to improve deterrence efforts along the border, smuggling organizations are finding it more difficult to move their illicit goods into the interior of the United States,” she wrote.
“Fencing infrastructure gives Border Patrol agents the time they need to stop illegal cross-border activity,” she wrote.
A contractor with Granite Construction, the company that built the fence in 2011, estimated at the time that someone would need about 15 minutes to cut through the steel tubes. By that math, if the person who cut the fence on Saturday were acting alone, the 16 total cuts would have taken about four hours to complete.
One of the selling points of the fence, which covers 2.8 miles of border and cost a reported $11.8 million to build, was that it would be more difficult to cut through than the landing-mat barrier it replaced.