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Mexican Town Fractured by Storms

October 16, 1999

TEZIUTLAN, Mexico (AP) _ The bridge over the river in Teziutlan is only 30 yards long, but when it was weakened during Mexico’s deadly floods it cut this already grieving community in half.

Many workers in the textile factories that dominate Teziutlan were among the 100 killed here, or the thousands left homeless. Others had their homes cut off by landslides.

The damaged Tlaltenango Bridge has made recovery harder _ especially at the textile companies that have produced blue jeans and other clothes for millions of Americans for years.

Teziutlan exports 1.5 million pieces of clothing each week to the United States for sales in stores such as Wal-Mart, Kmart and J.C. Penney, according to Alessandro Giorgi, president of the local clothing manufacturers’ association.

Factories here sew on labels such as Van Heusen, Gap, Guess?, Lee, Liz Claiborne, and Tommy Hilfiger.

With access to the bridge cut, production has slowed to a trickle because many of the factories are on one side and the giant industrial laundries _ used before the jeans can be shipped _ are on the other.

For the moment, tens of thousands of jeans are being moved by handcart across the bridge each day. It’s a temporary solution at best.

``If I cannot get this bridge fixed, I am going to have to shut down,″ said Antonio Rucabado, a 28-year-old clothing factory owner. ``Maybe not this year, but maybe next year.″

He said his factory is operating at only 60 percent capacity.

As he stood beside the bridge, people carrying bags of sausages, cans of milk and flats of vegetables scurried across the span headed for desperate communities beyond.

``On the other side of this bridge live more or less 20,000 people who depend on this bridge to get their products, their food, their supplies their everything,″ he said. ``It’s their connection to the city.″

Rucabado estimated that some 30,000 pairs of jeans are now being moved by handcart each day across the Tlatenango Bridge.

Jeans and other clothes that must be pre-washed are usually cut and sewn in Teziutlan and then trucked across the river to the laundries, where they are finished and packaged. They are then trucked back out down the mountains to Mexico City and, often the United States.

Giorgi said many factories, including his own, have also been forced to cut back production because many workers have trouble reaching their jobs. Most factories had to shut down for two to three days early last week at the height of the storm.

Teziutlan is a textbook example of what the North American Free Trade Agreement was supposed to bring to the interior of Mexico.

Giorgi estimated there are about 200 clothing factories in and around the city, about 410 miles south of Brownsville, Texas. City officials said 480 factories are registered, many of them home workshops which depend on piecework from larger companies that employ thousands of people.

The industry employs some 22,000 people around a city of only 85,000.

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