Mexico Storm Victims Desperate for Food, Water

Report
from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 15 Oct 1997
By David Luhnow

ACAPULCO, Mexico (Reuters) - Desperation set in Wednesday for thousands of people left homeless by Hurricane Pauline who complained now of being victims of corruption and inefficiency as well as the killer storm.

Pauline's rampage through this resort city of one million people last week caused massive destruction and flooding and claimed at least 400 lives, the Mexican Red Cross says.

At relief centers across Acapulco, people with nothing left but the clothes on their backs said bitterly they were receiving no help despite official promises of assistance.

''My children can't eat promises,'' said Agustina Quintero, a 45-year-old cleaning lady in a crowd of hundreds of people waiting for water and food at one of 39 city aid centers. Some shouted insults at army officers in charge of handing out aid.

Quintero and others said they were forced to use chlorine tablets given out by health workers to disinfect pools of muddy water in the streets and in their homes to drink.

As most of the city has had no clean water for five days, health officials Wednesday scrambled to prevent outbreaks of deadly diseases after four cases of cholera were reported in the past two days.

Tourists were forced to drink bottled water and ration their use of available water to just a few hours a day.
When water did flow into sinks, it was usually light brown.

Residents covered their faces with surgical masks to ward off a huge cloud of foul-smelling dust that blanketed the city, while others used wheelbarrows handed out by the army to remove rotting mud and sewage still covering their homes.

On a visit to several hard-hit areas Tuesday, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo got an earful from residents, accusing local officials of his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of hoarding goods for their supporters.

Zedillo promised to probe charges of corruption and said he was scrapping some relief centers and replacing them with soup kitchens.

But the situation seemed little better Wednesday. The army had not yet set up soup kitchens and the aid
centers were not handing out aid.

''They have all that food stacked up and none of us are getting it,'' Regina Carbajal, 32, told Reuters at a center
in the Zapata neighborhood.

Zedillo Wednesday traveled in his black presidential helicopter south of Acapulco to see aid efforts to hundreds of smaller villages stranded for nearly a week by the storm.

Roads were still not open and the army was using two C-130 Hercules transport planes and about twenty helicopters to airlift food and water to the stricken region.

Acapulco itself struggled to get back on its feet and host some 7,000 delegates for an international mining conference despite a critical water shortage and fears of disease.

Most of the city was not yet working. Banks, schools and the majority of businesses were closed. Hotel employees said they had to walk for two to three hours to make it to work on time because most of the roads were still closed to traffic.

Reut17:08 10-15-97

(15 Oct 1997 17:04 EDT)

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