Friday, November 2, 2007

Mexican floods leave 300,000 stranded

aroon Siddique and agencies
Friday November 2, 2007
Guardian Unlimited, UK

Rescuers were today using boats and helicopters to try to evacuate 300,000 people trapped by the worst floods to hit the Mexican state of Tabasco in 50 years, amid fears of further rainfall.

A week of heavy rains, which caused rivers to overflow, has left at least 70% of Tabasco and 80% of the state capital, Villahermosa, under water.

The floods, which have affected more than 1 million people according to state officials, showed no signs of abating despite a break in the rainfall yesterday. The Tabasco governor, Andrés Granier, warned the situation could get even worse, as forecasters said a new cold front could bring more rain over the region.

The homes of an estimated 700,000 people were flooded and potable water supplies in Villahermosa were exhausted, he said. At least one death was reported.

Rescue workers in boats and helicopters have been plucking desperate residents from their rooftops and have led thousands to shelters, but many remained trapped.

Mr Granier said police, soldiers and military workers were still trying to reach people.

The rain stopped yesterday, but weather forecasters predicted more in the coming days.

"The situation is extraordinarily grave. This is one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the country," said the president, Felipe Calderón, in a televised address last night.

The Grijalva river, one of two large waterways ringing Villahermosa, has risen two metres above its "critical" level, causing it to gush into the city centre. Authorities said some of the rivers were continuing to rise.

Dozens of survivors anxious about relatives and friends gathered outside government offices in Villahermosa seeking assistance.

Others waded through waist-deep water or wandered along highways leading out of the capital.

"We lost everything," said Manuel González, whose house was swallowed by the floodwaters early yesterday. "I left without one peso in my pocket and I can't find my siblings."

The flooding was not related to tropical storm Noel, which triggered heavy rains, flooding and mudslides in the Caribbean and left at least 115 people dead.

The state of Chiapas, which borders Tabasco to the south, also reported serious flooding, with an estimated 100,000 people affected, according to officials.

Mr Calderón called on Mexicans to contribute bottled water, canned goods, nappies and other vital supplies to donation centres around the country.

"Nobody can stand around with his arms crossed," said Mr Calderón. "We can't and won't abandon our brothers and sisters in Tabasco."

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