More than a million affected by floods in southern Mexico

2 days ago

MEXICO CITY (AFP) — Rescuers Friday battled to reach people stranded on rooftops as more than one million struggled in the worst floods on record in Mexico's southern Tabasco state and President Felipe Calderon canceled a foreign visit to help.

Television pictures showed people struggling to get to higher ground as rising water levels reached up to their necks. Others awaited rescue on rooftops, surrounded by floodwater.

Mexican navy crews used small boats to rescue victims.

"The event has overwhelmed everybody," Interior Minister Francisco Ramirez Acuna told journalists.

Military troops evacuated the center of Tabasco's capital Villahermosa after a levy collapsed, and hospital patients in the city of 750,000 were flown to neighboring states as floodwaters continued to rise.

The floods affected more than one million residents, or about half Tabasco's population, and officials said several hundred thousand people were trapped in their homes.

"New Orleans was small compared to this," said state Governor Andres Granier, in reference to the disaster wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which killed about 1,000 people in the southern US city alone.

President Felipe Caldron called off a November 6-8 visit to Panama, Colombia and Peru to deal with this "extreme emergency," his office said in a statement, adding that the leaders of the three nations had expressed their "solidarity" with Mexico.

Only one fatality was recorded so far in Tabasco, but the floods have caused widespread devastation.

The oil-rich state the size of Belgium is 80 percent underwater, and 850 towns have been flooded, officials said.

And with more rain forecast over the coming days, there is no respite in sight. Stocks of basic supplies are running low amid what officials said was panic buying.

Tabasco "is devastated," Granier said of the 29,000 square kilometer (11,000 square mile) state on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. "One hundred percent of crops are lost."

About 400 doctors and health workers were deployed across the region to detect any outbreak of infections, according to Tabasco's civil protection agency.

President Calderon ordered top government officials to travel to Tabasco to coordinate relief and rescue efforts, and local officials to tighten security measures to prevent looting.

Calderon said he was delegating "maximum authority" to military and police commanders, adding that more than 7,500 security forces were in Tabasco participating in rescue operations and to maintain order.

Military troops organized the evacuation of the Villahermosa city center late Thursday and early Friday after hundreds of its residents refused to leave their flooded homes amid reports of looting in the city.

"There's no policing," a Villahermosa woman told reporters. "The thieves climb on the roofs and open the doors through there."

Villahermosa government secretary Humberto Mayans said more than 100,000 people on the streets had turned the city "into a huge open-air shelter."

The floods began last week when a cold front brought heavy rain that caused the Grijalva, Carrizal and Puxcatan rivers to burst their banks.

Soldiers and state authorities had placed more than 700,000 sand bags along the rivers to prevent flooding, but the water rose above the barriers.

The floods worsened over the past days as authorities drained water from two dams in the neighboring state of Chiapas to prevent them from exceeding their capacity.

About 30 communities in Chiapas were flooded Friday after rivers burst their banks. The floods in Chiapas killed one person, left two missing and trapped 20,000.