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Mexican Flash Flood Kills 13

February 9, 1998

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) _ Heavy rainstorms sparked flash flooding in this border city on Sunday, killing at least 13 people and forcing thousands from their homes here and in nearby towns, authorities said.

The flooding comes days after a series of El Nino-powered storms blew drenching rain through Northern California.

The death toll rose as rescue workers cleared mud and searched Sunday for bodies in standing water, said Amado Gallardo of the state Forensic Medical Service in Tijuana, where the bodies were being held.

The unusual storm dumped extremely heavy rain in the early morning hours before skies cleared. However, officials were concerned that forecasts for more rain could again cause flooding in coming days.

The victims included three young women aged 13 to 15, according to state public safety officer Rodolfo Venegas. Local media said at least 15 were killed, seven in Tijuana and eight more just south of there in the town of Rosarito Beach.

``Some of the victims were carried away by floodwaters and some died trapped in their vehicles″ on Tijuana roads, Venegas said.

Civil Protection of Tijuana had not declared a disaster or ordered an evacuation Sunday evening, said Antonio Rosquillas Navarro of Tijuana’s Civil Protection agency. But residents were advised to avoid canyons and flood-prone areas.

Police estimated that between 5,000 and 8,000 residents had been forced from their homes by the flooding, and more than 300 homes were either damaged or destroyed.

Some Tijuana residents struggled to rescue their possessions and clean out their homes, while about 400 people took refuge at six emergency shelters set up in public buildings in Tijuana.

Overturned cars and ankle-deep mud blocked many streets, after heavy rains and high winds battered the city.

The Red Cross said several people were also reported injured in the flooding, but provided no information on their condition.

The flooding was apparently worsened by insufficient storm drains in this border city 1,440 miles northwest of Mexico City, where torrents of water ran through hillside communities.

Venegas said the floodwaters ``came down canyons and hillsides and swept away everything in their path.″

City authorities called on the Mexican army to help rescue victims and repair storm damage, as workers struggled to remove mud and rocks from main streets in Tijuana, a major center for tourism and border assembly plants.

The army mobilized 300 troops to aid in the relief efforts with communications gear and medical equipment.

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