Floods kill 64 in Mexico, disaster declared

from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 06 Oct 1999
By Michael Christie

MEXICO CITY, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Mexico declared disaster areas in four states on Tuesday as heavy rains caused some of the worst floods in 40 years, killing at least 64 people and driving tens of thousands from their homes, officials and media said.

In Tulancingo, a city filled with textile factories in the central state of Hidalgo, the Tulancingo river raged over its banks in the center of town, dragging trucks and cars and filling some 6,500 homes and buildings with water.

"Practically half of the city is affected to some degree," Hidalgo state Gov. Manuel Angel Nunez told reporters. He said the water was more than a meter (three feet) deep in parts of Tulancingo, about 70 miles (120 km) northeast of Mexico City.

Also in Hidalgo, the walls of a marble quarry caved in from rains, burying seven workers under tons of mud and rock. Six bodies were recovered from the collapsed mine, said Margarito Hernandez, an official in the town hall of San Salvador.

The Interior Ministry decreed emergencies in parts of the states of Puebla, Michoacan, Jalisco and Tabasco as rivers burst their banks. The declaration allows local officials access to federal funds to cope with the natural disasters.

In the Gulf of Mexico state of Tabasco, authorities said rivers were flooding higher than they had in 40 years and two drownings Tuesday brought the death toll to four. More than 58,000 people were forced out of their homes.

In Tabasco's capital Villahermosa, the Carrizal river was flooding huge suburban neighborhoods

"I'm about two kilometers from the river, in a high area, and the water is up to my knees. It's coming up through the drains. My bed, camera, and microwave are ruined," said resident Manuel Lopez, speaking from a cellular phone as he stood on his roof. "I'm going to stay on the roof tonight with some neighbors to make sure nothing gets stolen."

For a second day in a row Tabasco officials warned people living near the Carrizal, Samaria, Grijalva and Usumacinta rivers to evacuate as they were forced to open floodgates to release water pent up behind hydroelectric dams.

On Tuesday night Televisa television station reported a total death toll of 39 in the state of Puebla in the past week and 14 in Veracruz, including two men buried in mudslides. Southern Chiapas state on the Guatemalan border also reported two deaths.

Mexico's national Meteorological Service said that at 9:00 p.m. local time (0200 GMT Wednesday) a tropical depression was hovering in the Gulf of Mexico, 75 miles (120 km) northeast of Veracruz port.

"Additional rainfall amounts of 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 cm), with locally higher amounts in mountainous areas, are possible over portions of eastern Mexico. These rainfalls could cause flash floods and mudslides," the Miami-based U.S. national Hurricane Center said in a report.

The rains did not let up in Central America either, where areas barely recovered from the devastation wrought last year by Hurricane Mitch have been pummeled by torrential rains since mid-September.

More than 50 people have died in the region in the past two weeks while up to 20,000 have had to be evacuated after surging rivers washed away roads, bridges and houses.

Hurricane Mitch, which struck at the end of last October, was one of the strongest Atlantic storms this century and killed some 9,000 people throughout Central America.

In poverty-ridden Honduras, farmers warned that the current floods were causing serious damage to their fields.

"We no longer face a delicate or serious situation. I would dare to call it catastrophic," said Alfonso Gallardo, president of the Honduran Farmers and Cattle Ranchers Association.

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