La Paz, Mexico (AFP) Sept 21, 2010
A new storm compounded Mexico's misery Tuesday, drenching the Baja California peninsula as the country tallied its dead and struggled to care for one million people affected by Hurricane Karl and historic flooding.
Pacific Tropical Storm Georgette drenched the resort town of Cabo San Lucas at Baja California's southern tip, lashing the region with strong winds before being downgraded to a tropical depression.
"We have already evacuated around 1,000 families" from areas vulnerable to flooding and storm surges, said Jose Gajon, director of Civil Defense for Baja California Sur state.
Across the country to the east, the toll from the powerful hurricane that struck last Friday, mainly in Veracruz state along the Gulf of Mexico coast, rose to 22 dead as emergency crews searched many of the hundreds of towns and villages inundated by heavy rains and flooding and struggled to reach remote communities.
Among the fatalities were seven passengers on a bus that was buried when a hillside bloated by heavy rains gave way early Tuesday, near the central town of Villa Guerrero some 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Mexico City, according to the town's mayor, Tito Maya de la Cruz.
Another 20 people were missing in the tragedy, he said, amid fears the death toll would rise as Civil Defense rescue teams had spent hours digging through thick mud and debris in an effort to find missing people.
At least 12 people died from Hurricane Karl-related flooding or landslides in Veracruz, where authorities said half a million people have been affected, including 40,000 who remained in emergency shelters Tuesday.
"Nearly half the state is under water," Veracruz Governor Fidel Herrera told reporters a day after President Felipe Calderon toured hard-hit regions of the state and called for tightened security to clamp down on looting.
But Herrera reiterated his call for solidarity between the half million in Veracruz and an equal number in the country's south and east who have been displaced or affected in varying degrees by weeks of rain and flooding.
"I have no doubt that in the next seven days Veracruz will dry out, and together we will push to rebuild," he said.
Major flooding earlier this month across Mexico left 25 people dead. Authorities described this year's wet season as the worst on record.
The latest deaths now add up to 78 for the rainy season that started in early May, said Civil Protection chief Laura Gurza. Rainfall has been "far above normal" for the season, she added.
And just four days after Karl's wrath, Tropical Storm Georgette was pummeling the Pacific coast.
Earlier in the day authorities halted all maritime traffic in the area amid forecasts of four-meter (13-foot) swells.
In Veracruz, some of Mexico's most storied historic structures had been inundated, including dozens of buildings in La Antigua, the first town founded by the Spanish in eastern Mexico.
They include the ruins of the house of Hernan Cortes, named on behalf of the famed 16th-Century Spanish conquistador, which was under 1.5 meters (five feet) of water after the hurricane barreled ashore nearby.
"Once all the water recedes, the damage to the ruins will be assessed," local historian Wenceslao Garcia told AFP.
Some parts of the historic town were still under half a meter (1.7 feet) of water on Tuesday, and locals said they felt cut off from the outside world after the hurricane.
"My family lost everything," said 42-year-old Fernando Montes, who was using a machete to cut up a fallen tree.
"There was no support for nearly two days until the army arrived."
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