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Mexican officials rush aid to flooded Gulf coast state; health experts fear outbreaks
Mexico Flooded MOEV 5342453
Soldiers build a dam of sand bags at the town of Villahermosa, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2007. A week of heavy rains unleashed massive flooding in southeastern Mexico, killing at least one person and forcing tens of thousands to flee the rising waters for shelters in Tabasco and Chiapas states. - photo by Associated Press
    VILLAHERMOSA, Mexico — Military trucks hauled bottled water, food and clothing to Mexico’s flooded Gulf coast Friday as rescue workers in helicopters and boats worked furiously to retrieve thousands of victims stranded on rooftops.
    With flooding across nearly all of the Gulf coast state of Tabasco and food and drinking water scarce, health officials warned against epidemics of cholera and other waterborne diseases.
    An estimated 900,000 people had their homes flooded, damaged or cut off, and as of Thursday 300,000 still had not been rescued, Tabasco Gov. Andres Granier said. Police, soldiers and military workers were still trying to reach them.
    It was becoming difficult to find a safe place to put refugees. Officials improvised, turning parking garages and any other dry structure into temporary shelters. Dozens of hospitals and medical centers were also flooded, complicating treatment of the sick.
    Health officials warned that there could be epidemics of cholera, although none were yet reported.
    Tabasco state floods every year around this time, and many poor, low-lying neighborhoods have grown accustomed to spending half a year with the first floor of their home under water. But this year’s flooding has taken even flood-weary residents by surprise, inundating the state capital of Villahermosa and leaving the city’s famous Olmec statues with water up to their enormous stone chins.
    ‘‘The situation is extraordinarily grave: This is one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the country,’’ President Felipe Calderon said in a televised address Thursday night.
    Several Mexican banks established special accounts into which residents could donate money for the victims, many of whom lost everything, including their homes.
    ‘‘Nobody can stand around with his arms crossed,’’ Calderon said. ‘‘We can’t and won’t abandon our brothers and sisters in Tabasco.’’
    A week of heavy rains caused rivers to overflow, leaving at least 70 percent of the state — and 80 percent of the capital — under water. At least one death was reported. Nearly all services, including drinking water and public transportation, were shut down in Villahermosa.
    Weather forecasters predicted more rain in the coming days. The flooding was not related to Tropical Storm Noel, which pounded the Caribbean.
    The Grijalva River, one of two large waterways ringing Villahermosa, has risen 6 1/2 feet above its ‘‘critical’’ level and gushed into the city’s center. Authorities said some of the rivers were continuing to rise.
    In Villahermosa, dozens of survivors anxious about relatives and friends crowded outside government offices seeking assistance. Others waded despondently through waist-deep water or wandered along highways leading out of the capital.
    ‘‘We lost everything,’’ said Manuel Gonzalez, whose house was swallowed by the floodwaters early Thursday. ‘‘I left without one peso in my pocket and I can’t find my siblings.’’
    The state of Chiapas, which borders Tabasco to the south, also reported serious flooding, with officials there estimating that more than 100,000 people had been affected.
    ————
    Associated Press writer Manuel de la Cruz in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico, contributed to this report.

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