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19 Die in Mexico Floods, Many Flee

October 6, 1999

VILLAHERMOSA, Mexico (AP) _ The Mexican government declared a state of emergency Tuesday in four states where the worst flooding in 40 years has killed at least 19 people and forced the evacuation of more than 100,000 others.

The flooding has caused seven rivers to overflow. In the Gulf coast state of Tabasco, residents were alarmed by reports of crocodiles up to 8 feet long roaming the flooded streets of the capital, Villahermosa. 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 the Grijalva, Usumacinta and Carrizal rivers in Tabasco.

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

Besides Tabasco, officials declared a state of emergency in the Pacific states of Michoacan and Jalisco, and the central state of Puebla. Local officials said some people were trapped on rooftops by floodwaters in Puebla.

Some 55,000 people have been evacuated in Tabasco state, including more than 34,000 in Villahermosa, where the Grijalva and Carrizal rivers have flooded due to nearly a week of rain. Another 50,000 were evacuated in the central state of Hidalgo.

In addition to four flood-related deaths reported in Tabasco, at least four people have died in neighboring Veracruz state. In the southernmost state of Chiapas, two elderly men drowned while trying to cross a flooded river on horseback while drunk, officials said. And in Puebla state, nine had died, the state Notimex news agency said Tuesday.

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 85 miles east-northeast of the port city of Veracruz, according to the U.S. National Weather Service in Miami.

The storm was expected to drift northwest toward land and 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.

Update hourly