Mexicans flock to donate aid for flood victims
MEXICO CITY, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Mexicans spared the devastating floods of the past week flocked to collection centers on Monday to donate water, clothes and medicine to help nearly 300,000 of their countrymen driven from their homes by furious rains.
The Mexican Red Cross said just under 500 tons of food and other supplies had poured into centers in Mexico City since the torrential rain provoked mudslides and sent rivers surging over their banks in the east and center of the country.
"We've had nearly 8,500 people come in to donate things since Friday," said Victor Manuel Galvan, a deputy director of the national Red Cross.
President Ernesto Zedillo paid his third visit in a week on Monday to flood-hit areas, trekking through mud to inspect sites where soldiers have been digging for up to three days to unearth people buried alive under mudslides.
Officials around the country said at least 425 people had died in the flood waters, mainly in the central state of Puebla and the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz. The officials said more than 270,000 people were affected.
"It's all about giving back some of the help that one day they'll give you," said Raul Beltran, waiting in a long line of cars outside a Red Cross collection center on Monday in the affluent Mexico City neighborhood of Polanco.
"It's a grain of sand (compared to the disaster)," acknowledged Magdaleno Mejia, one of 450 volunteers who have joined the Red Cross' relief effort.
Flood victims have complained that aid has been slow to arrive. The government says rescue efforts were frustrated by damage to roads and bridges, making access to remote mountain and coastal areas difficult. Bad weather also hampered relief efforts.
In Veracruz, Civil Protection officials said they had only nine helicopters to ferry bottles of desperately needed water and other foodstuffs to isolated areas in the state, which stretches more than 370 miles (600 km) from north to south.
The Social Development Ministry said in a recent statement it had already distributed 956 tons of food, 373 tons of water and thousands of blankets to the four states most affected -- Puebla, Veracruz, Tabasco in the southeast and Hidalgo in the center.
Mexico has so far rejected international aid, saying it can cope. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Monday Mexico could count on U.N. help if needed.
Mexican Red Cross officials said they had received around $100,000 from the Red Cross in the United States, while local newspapers reported that Mexican consulates overseas were being authorized to accept donations.