Mexico flood survivors bury dead, plead for help

from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 11 Oct 1999
By Julio Martinez

PUEBLA, Mexico, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Survivors of the devastating floods on Mexico's Gulf coast begged for more emergency stocks of food on Sunday as health officials warned that conditions were ripe for an outbreak of disease.

Rescue workers struggled to unearth the bodies of more people killed in mudslides, and fresh rainfall in hard-hit central Puebla state hampered helicopter rescue missions to remote mountain villages.

Authorities around the country reported 425 dead and at least 200,000 homeless following a week of heavy rain that caused flooding in nine of Mexico's 31 states. The death toll was expected to climb.

Frustration appeared to be growing over a lack of aid. In the Gulf state of Tabasco, flood victims angered by a failure to bring assistance to their hometown of Lazaro Cardenas opened ditches on Saturday to drain their flooded streets.

This sent water washing over the highway connecting the town to the capital Villahermosa and stranded thousands of vehicles. Police clashed with the protesters, arresting 70 people were arrested, including one pregnant woman and eight children. Fifteen remained in jail as of late Sunday pending bail of $11,600 apiece.

And residents of Puebla state complained that emergency food supplies were insufficient or were not getting through to remote villages.

Student Edith Amitis met Puebla state Gov. Melquiades Morales after traveling from the mountain village of Mazatepec to the state capital, Puebla, for a charity marathon to boost relief work.

"There isn't any more (food). The few supplies that arrived are being sold or hoarded," she told the governor. "I beg you for help! I beg you not to forget us!"

Morales promised to crack down on storekeepers who hoard food or raise prices.

"I've already told town mayors to keep a close watch on this. And if prices are fixed, then they should close down the store," Morales told journalists.

Soldiers in Puebla state continued to recover bodies in La Aurora, a village perched on a hillside near the town of Teziutlan, where a massive mudslide engulfed whole families trapped in their modest homes. The number of bodies unearthed rose to 99 on Sunday.

Police Chief Amadeo Andrade said the grim task of digging for corpses was far from over. The mayor's office estimated 140 had died in Teziutlan, 120 miles (190 km) northeast of Mexico City.

"There are still people buried in the mud. The order is to remove all the mud that is there. We're working 24 hours a day," Andrade told Reuters.

Rescue workers in Mixum, a small Indian village in Puebla, used buckets to remove earth 100 feet (30 metres) deep that had buried a kindergarten class of 20 and their teachers. So far the bodies of just four children have been recovered.

In neighboring Veracruz state, on the Gulf coast, health authorities warned that stagnant pools of muddy water could become breeding grounds for mosquitoes carrying dengue, a tropical disease that causes severe pain, fever and rash.

"So far there has been no outbreak of dengue, but if we aren't careful there could be an epidemic. We have a health alert in the state," Veracruz state Director of Health Services Luis Fernando Artiga told Reuters.

Flood related deaths have been reported in Puebla, neighboring Veracruz, central Hidalgo, Gulf state Tabasco and southeastern Chiapas.

Church and nongovernmental groups were appealing for donations of canned food, bottled water, blankets and medical supplies to send to flood victims.

More rain could further frustrate rescue efforts. The National Weather Service said tropical storm Irwin was causing moderate to heavy rain along Mexico's Pacific coast, but this was expected to diminish as the storm headed out to sea.

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