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Anger rises in flood-stricken southern Mexico

People queue as they cross a bridge in the flooded city of Villahermosa, state of Tabasco, Mexico, 05 November, 2007. Rescue workers and police were out in force helping flood victims in southern Mexico, as food shortages sent hundreds of hungry people on a looting rampage at a shopping center. Just in the state of Tabasco, around 80 percent of the territory was flooded after seven rain-loaded rivers burst their banks in the flat, flood-prone region, in its worst natural disaster in decades. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Villahermosa, Mexico (AFP) Nov 5, 2007
Anger and despair rose Monday as victims of southern Mexico's disastrous floods, some perched on rooftops, complained of chaotic aid distribution and looting.

Hundreds of people in Villahermosa, the capital of the flood-stricken state of Tabasco, refused to comply with orders to evacuate, fearing their homes or businesses could fall victim to looters, who have been using boats to gain access to buildings cut off by high water.

Over the weekend, police arrested more than 50 people accused of stealing domestic appliances and other items, according to local media.

In a bid to prevent further looting, State Governor Andres Granier limited access to the city center to people officially registered.

Authorities estimate that about 20,000 people were trapped in their homes and had not received any aid.

Many residents sat on rooftops, holding up signs asking for food and water, but refusing to evacuate to emergency shelters.

"We have evacuated as many as we could, but some are reticent and we try to convince them to leave," said Jose Domingo Garcia, a local official coordinating the deployment of motor boats to affected homes in Villahermosa.

Many of the flood victims complained of chaotic distribution of emergency aid.

Television pictures showed dozens of people fighting over a box of food supplies in Villahermosa.

On Saturday, about 1,000 people overran a downtown shopping center in Tabasco, overwhelming law enforcement officials and making off with everything in sight, including televisions and home appliances.

"People are going hungry, we're aware of that," Granier said on television after the incident, "but being hungry doesn't justify such behaviour and outright attacks."

There was some relief amid the despair as water levels started to drop after the rains that drenched the area stopped over the weekend.

Drinking water services were restored in some parts of Villahermosa, and authorities authorized schools to reopen in the few areas of the city of 750,000 that are not under water.

But the flood waters still reached up to two meters (6.6 feet) in some areas.

As a rescue team reached his home in a motor boat, a 67-year-old man argued he could not abandon his dogs and his turkeys, and even though water almost reached his balcony, he felt safe. Rescuers eventually managed to convince him to go to a shelter.

Authorities say about half Tabasco's population of 2.1 million people have been affected by the floods, the worst in the southern Mexican state's history.

In all, 700 cities and villages have been affected.

Authorities said one person was killed by the floods, and were investigating the cause of death in the case of another two people whose bodies were found in a lagoon in a Villahermosa neighborhood.

Health officials worried about health risks from open sewage and the spread of disease-carrying mosquitoes. Dengue, cholera and diarrhea outbreaks now are very real possibilities, they said.

Several countries responded to President Felipe Calderon's call for international solidarity, including Germany, which pledged 250,000 euros and the United States which announced aid totaling 350,000 dollars.

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Hungry Mexico flood victims turn to looting
Villahermosa, Mexico (AFP) Nov 3, 2007
Rescue workers and police were out in force helping flood victims in southern Mexico, as food shortages sent hundreds of hungry people on a looting rampage at a shopping center.

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