Mexico faces aftermath of its own Katrina

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The Independent US

Rescue workers rushed to pick up victims of a catastrophic flood in the southeastern Mexican state of Tabasco over the weekend, where as many as a million people were reported to be homeless and the state Governor compared his capital, Villahermosa, to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Navy helicopters picked women and children up from the roofs of waterlogged buildings, while rescue workers on the surface helped elderly people into boats. Most able-bodied adults swam or waded through the filthy flood waters, which rose to four feet or more in the streets of the capital.

The initial death toll was reported to be low – just one in Tabasco and another seven in the neighbouring state of Chiapas – but it was almost impossible to assess the damage to property or human life.

Torrential rains began eight days ago and continued for five days straight, causing several rivers to burst their banks on what are already low-lying swampy plains leading down from the mountains towards the Gulf of Mexico. It was the worst flooding the region has seen for half a century.

Many Tabasco residents left for the neighbouring state of Veracruz. About 70,000 were reported to have taken refuge in government shelters. An even larger number – about 100,000, according to one government estimate – were left wandering the streets with nowhere to go.

Others remained stranded on rooftops anxiously awaiting help. One group held up a banner to television helicopters that read: "Enough. There are children, pregnant women, sick women. Send the police."

Looting was a widespread problem, with many residents reported to be swooping on supermarkets and electronics stores. About 1,000 troops were patrolling the streets to try to prevent crime.

Sanitation is likely to become a bigger problem as the floods lengthen. Villahermosa and many other communities are without fresh water or electricity. Landline and mobile phone connections have also failed.

The long-term effects could be even more devastating. Tabasco is primarily an agricultural state, and the floods have destroyed many if not most of the crops.

The crisis presented a challenge to Mexico's President, Felipe Calderon, who took office 11 months ago. He cancelled a trip around Central and South America scheduled for this week.

Tabasco's Governor, Andres Granier, said meanwhile that the floods had affected as many as a million of Tabasco's 2.2 million people. It was not immediately clear, however, how many of them had actually lost their homes.