Rescue Efforts Intensify As Mexican Rains Subside

from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 08 Oct 1999
By Julio Martinez

PUEBLA, Mexico (Reuters) - Soldiers were to intensify efforts to rescue any remaining survivors from mudslides at daybreak Friday as rains subsided and Mexicans set to shoveling the mud and grime left in their homes by flooding that killed well over 200 people.

Army rescuers had pulled more than a dozen bodies from a school and homes buried when a hillside collapsed on the tiny Indian town of Michun in central Puebla state, media reports said late Thursday.

Puebla's Interior Secretary, Carlos Alberto Julian y Nacer, said a total of 166 dead have been confirmed in Puebla alone, and that some 125 people are still missing and presumed dead.

He said 950 soldiers were aiding rescue efforts in the remote northern mountains of Puebla, where 30,000 people were forced from their homes by landslides and floods. Nine municipalities were still cut off.

The greatest devastation appeared to have hit Michun, some 100 miles northeast of Mexico City, where a landslide covered the school and most of the houses, burying possibly as many as 70 people, said Rocio Vazquez of Puebla state's Civil Protection unit.

''The mountain slid down and swallowed up the town,'' a reporter for Radio Red said after she overflew the impoverished area in a helicopter Thursday afternoon.

The impoverished region was made even more isolated than usual by the heavy rains and landslides, which have rendered mountain passes almost impassable.

Puebla officials said 30 people were thought to have been buried when a mountainside slid down on another remote town in the state's northern mountains, Zacatlan.

President Ernesto Zedillo, who planned to survey the damaged areas from the air Friday, expressed sorrow for the suffering. ''I am greatly pained by the loss of lives caused by these floods,'' he told reporters.

In most of eastern and central Mexico, rivers were returning to within their banks after three days of raging floods triggered by rains from a tropical depression over the Gulf of Mexico, which inundated at least nine of the country's 31 states.

In the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz, 50 people were killed, 452 communities flooded and 23,500 people in shelters, said Civil Protection spokesman Miguel Angel Cristiani.

''Most people don't want to abandon their homes. We have rescued 935 people from islands of dry land, rooftops and trees using helicopters,'' Cristiani told Reuters.

South of Veracruz in Tabasco state, seven people were reported killed in the worst flooding there in 40 years. And even as rains stopped Thursday, waters rose in the state capital, Villahermosa.

The Grijalva river, which flows through the center of the city, overflowed its banks as officials released flood waters from a hydroelectric dam upstream.

A witness said there was panic and chaos in Villahermosa as cars fleeing the rising waters jammed the roads. Banks in Villahermosa shut down after they were swamped with residents trying to make withdrawals, and officials in the city were forced to move 1,600 prisoners to higher ground when the waters swept through a major penitentiary.

Six people have died in southern Chiapas state and 10 in the central state of Hidalgo, including seven miners trapped under tons of mud when the walls of a marble quarry caved in.

In Hidalgo's second city, Tulancingo, half-covered with water until early Thursday, residents began returning to their devastated homes late in the day, shoveling mud, grime, ruined furniture and dead animals out of their living rooms.

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