Massive Floods Hit Southern Mexico

By Antonio Villegas | November 2, 2007

A week of heavy rains unleashed massive flooding in southeastern Mexico, killing at least one person and forcing tens of thousands to flee rising waters in Tabasco and Chiapas states, officials said Wednesday.

An unidentified man was killed and some 20,400 people sought shelter Wednesday in Tabasco’s oil-rich capital of Villahermosa, the state government said in a press release. Gov. Andres Granier urged residents to evacuate the city where floodwaters reached the rooftops of homes. “The situation is lost,” Granier said in a meeting with President Felipe Calderon, who flew to the area Wednesday. “Where are we going to put all these people who are now out on the street?”

Rescuers worked feverishly to evacuate thousands of people before nightfall Wednesday, but thousands more were still waiting on roofs, federal police rescue unit chief Daniel Montiel told local television.

The flooding, which is not related to Tropical Storm Noel, apparently caused the soil supporting a 10-inch natural gas pipeline to give way and spring a leak, officials from the state-owned company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, said. Tabasco state officials said the pipeline had exploded, but that there were no deaths or injuries.

Calderon said the government was sending help by boat and helicopter to aid the more than 300,000 people in Tabasco whose homes were flooded, damaged or cut off. “It’s imperative that we get to the people who are trapped and bring them to safe places,” Calderon said.

In the southern state of Chiapas 7,000 people were evacuated due to floods, the newspaper El Universal reported. In Villahermosa, rooftops barely jutted above the surface of brackish waters flooding the city’s streets, and classes were suspended statewide.

Heavy rains started swelling waterways on Sunday. Later reports describe the flooding as the worst in 50 years. More than 2 million people in the State of Tabasco have been affected by the rising waters.

The ongoing storms have also directly affected Mexico’s oil industry. Three of the main ports have been closed to shipping, reducing Mexico’s oil exports by around 20 percent.

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