Floodwaters devastate Tabasco state in Mexico
Massive flooding from a week of rain has forced hundreds of thousands of people to abandon their homes and seek shelter from muddy waters that Friday covered an estimated 80% of the Gulf state of Tabasco in southeastern Mexico, including most of this capital city, officials said.
“The scene here is terrible, it’s biblical,” said Javier Velazco, assistant director of the Red Cross in Tabasco. “We’re attending to thousands of people. We’re delivering food, rope and water, but it’s not enough. We need everybody’s help.”
Mexican military and government workers scrambled helicopters and rescue boats during much of the day Friday to reach tens of thousands of people trapped by floodwaters that reached the rooftops of low-lying neighborhoods. Many people found themselves stranded, having been reluctant to leave their homes earlier for fear of looters.
Tabasco Gov. Andres Granier said half of the state’s 2 million residents were affected by flooding. And despite planes full of emergency goods arriving Friday, officials worried about shortages of food, drinking water and medicine this weekend.
“All of the crops have been lost, the state’s industries are under water, and the local broadcasters can’t transmit information without electricity,” Granier said.
Government workers and volunteers ferried truckloads of food and drinking water to shelters in parking structures, hospitals and 1,700 schools. When some shelters flooded, officials sought drier quarters: About 2,000 people are now camped at the governor’s mansion.
Most stores, markets and gas stations were closed, creating a growing desperation among the newly homeless. Half the telephone land lines were inoperable and electricity was out in most of the capital, officials said.
Those lucky enough to find shelter space woke up Friday morning wrapped in donated blankets after a night on concrete floors. Some told TV interviewers that they’d left behind all but the clothes they wore as they made their escape. Others pointed to a box of clothes or a television set they’d toted to safety.
More affluent residents jammed hotels in the capital. At the airport, thousands of people waited for flights out of the city, with airlines giving preference to families with children.
Hilda Perez, 65, had arrived at the airport at 11 a.m. and eight hours later was still waiting for a flight to Mexico City. Her downtown house was knee-deep in water when she left it. She and her daughter and two grandchildren hope to stay with relatives until the waters recede.
“I was brave,” said her grandson, 5-year-old Carlos Jose Quevedo. “My sister cried, but I didn’t.”
Men, women and children clung to makeshift rafts, utility poles and buildings in dramatic TV news video. Others were seen trying to wade or swim to safety. Helicopter views showed streets filled with brown water, with people on rooftops waiting for help. Workers unloaded inflatable rafts from trucks.
One death has been confirmed, officials said, but hundreds are missing. Mexico has yet to release damage estimates, which are expected to include millions of dollars in agricultural losses from crops such as bananas, corn and beans.
The sun was out Friday, but weather officials said there could be more rain in the coming days. Residents here say they are used to annual flooding, but not this severe. Mexico’s southernmost stretch of the Sierra Madre drains through Tabasco to the Gulf of Mexico.
Soldiers over the last few days filled sandbags to protect the capital from the swollen Grijalva River. But the sandbag walls burst shortly after midnight Friday, and within hours the floodwaters inundated the capital.
President Felipe Calderon, in a nationally televised address Thursday night, said Tabasco residents were suffering through one of the country’s worst disasters and asked Mexicans to pitch in with donations. He canceled a South America visit to tour the state Friday, promising help.
Many Tabasco residents, Calderon said, had “lost their homes, their belongings, their crops and their ability to care for their children.” He said the army, navy and federal police would lead rescue efforts and protect property. Local newspaper Tabasco Hoy reported scattered looting Friday.
About 12,000 Mexican soldiers, sailors and federal police officers have been dispatched to Tabasco. And as aid workers arrived Friday, residents made their way to the neighboring state of Veracruz in traffic jams that stretched for miles.
Uribe reported from Tabasco and Enriquez from Mexico City. Cecilia Sanchez in The Times’ Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.
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How to help
Financial donations to assist flood victims and rescue efforts are being collected by, among others:
Catholic Relief Services
( www.crs.org or 1-877-HELP-CRS)
( www.unicefusa.org or 1-800-4UNICEF)
( www.scotiabank.com, account number 00100911240)
( www.hsbc.com, account number 4000943274)
Wells Fargo bank
Local Red Cross offices