tampabay.com

900,000 affected by floods

Mexico pulls together as tens of thousands remain stranded in or on homes.

Associated Press
Published November 3, 2007


VILLAHERMOSA, Mexico - Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans fled a flooded region of the Gulf Coast on Friday, jumping from rooftops into rescue helicopters, scrambling into boats or swimming out through murky water.

President Felipe Calderon, flying overhead, called it one of Mexico's worst recent natural disasters.

A week of heavy rains caused rivers to overflow, drowning at least 70 percent of the oil-rich state of Tabasco. Much of the state capital, Villahermosa, looked like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, with water reaching to rooftops and people awaiting rescue.

At least one death was reported and nearly all services, including drinking water and public transportation, were shut down. The flood affected an estimated 900,000 people - their homes damaged or cut off by high water.

Rain gave way to sunshine Friday, but tens of thousands of people were still stranded on rooftops or in the upper floors of their homes. Rescue workers used tractors, helicopters, water scooters and boats to ferry people to safety, while others swam through water infested by poisonous snakes to reach higher ground.

The extent of the flooding was clear from the sky - Tabasco state seemed like an inland sea with only rooftops and treetops protruding from the water.

In a televised address late Thursday, the president called on Mexicans to donate supplies as the government trucked in water, food and clothing.

Mexicans across the country responded by contributing money and supplies.

Friday was the Day of the Dead holiday, but banks opened to accept donations for flood victims.

Food and clean drinking water were extremely scarce in Tabasco state, and federal Deputy Health Secretary Mauricio Hernandez warned that there could be outbreaks of cholera and other waterborne diseases.

"With so many people packed together there is a chance that infectious diseases could spread," he said.The government sent 20,000 hepatitis A vaccinations and were giving booster shots to children, Hernandez said.

Hotels, parking garages and other dry structures were converted into temporary shelters.

Many people were headed to nearby cities unaffected by the floods. Highways that weren't covered with water were packed with residents fleeing in cars and on foot.