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Mexicans Urged To Flee From Floods

October 5, 1999

VILLAHERMOSA, Mexico (AP) _ The Mexican government declared a state of emergency Tuesday in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco, where the worst flooding in 40 years has killed four people and forced the evacuation of 55,000 others.

The flooding has caused five rivers to overflow. In the state capital, Villahermosa, residents have been alarmed by reports of crocodiles up to 8 feet long roaming the flooded streets. Local officials said Tuesday that police shot one of the creatures as it moved toward a populated neighborhood.

Warning that water levels would rise further, state authorities urged people to evacuate from low-lying communities along several rivers.

``We cannot wait for the situation to worsen,″ Tabasco Civil Protection chief Sergio Jimenez Urgell said Tuesday in a radio address.

More than 34,000 people have evacuated their homes in Villahermosa, where the Grijalva and Carrizal rivers have flooded due to nearly a week of rain. Thousands living along other rivers also have already fled their homes.

In addition to four flood-related deaths reported in Tabasco, at least two people have died in neighboring Veracruz state.

The army deployed troops to help refugees reach shelters. Tabasco schools were closed indefinitely in more than 140 communities along the Grijalva and Usumacinta rivers.

Though rains were weakening Tuesday, the National Water Commission maintained a red alert and warned that water releases from area dams could cause the state’s rivers to rise by an additional foot.

``We could have a catastrophic situation,″ commission spokesman Gilberto Segovia said.

The southeastern Gulf Coast states were being inundated by the season’s 11th tropical depression, which was centered about 115 miles east-northeast of the port city of Veracruz, according to the U.S. National Weather Service in Miami.

The storm, which was expected to drift northwest toward land, was expected to dump between 10 inches and 15 inches of rain over southeastern Mexico. The weather center warned of the potential for flash floods and mudslides.

To the northwest, in the central state of Hidalgo, heavy rain forced authorities to release water from the La Esperanza dam Tuesday, causing the Tulancingo and San Lorenzo rivers to overflow and sending thousands of people to emergency shelters. Firefighters, civil protection authorities and the Red Cross estimated that at least 3,500 Hidalgo homes were flooded, the government news agency Notimex said.

In Central America, meanwhile, several weeks of flooding and torrential rains have killed more than 50 people across the region.

In Guatemala, 13 people have died and the homes and plantations of some 6,000 people have been destroyed, officials said. Police estimated the storms have killed at least 15 people in Nicaragua, 21 in Honduras, 11 in El Salvador, six in Costa Rica and 15 in Mexico.

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