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200 Feared Drowned In Monterrey

September 18, 1988

MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) _ About 200 people were feared drowned Saturday after a river swollen by Hurricane Gilbert’s heavy rains surged over its banks, sweeping away four buses and flooding scores of homes, authorities said.

The raging Santa Catarina River engulfed cars, crushed houses and flooded large areas of this industrial city of 3 million about 110 miles from the Texas border. Much of Monterrey was without power and drinking water and the airport was closed.

Gov. Jorge Trevino Martinez declared the state of Nuevo Leon a disaster area.

″It was a terrible thing, the worst thing that could have happened here,″ said his spokesman, Geraldo Castro. ″This disaster is unprecedented in the state.″

The hurricane, the strongest on record, was downgraded to a tropical depression Saturday after leaving at least 100 other people dead across the Caribbean, Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and Texas.

Castro said there were at least 200 people aboard the four buses. ″I don’t think many of them could have escaped,″ he said. Red Cross spokesman Adelberto Salas said only 13 people aboard the buses were saved.

Castro said some 20,000 people in the state were homeless, 12,000 of them in Monterrey.

″We all left with only the clothes on our backs,″ Victorio Cruz said as he picked through mud, gravel and the cement blocks where his two-room house had stood.

Flood waters began to recede late Saturday but the current in the Santa Catarina was too strong for a search for bodies.

Trevino told a news conference the bodies ″are buried in mud. If there are people inside (the buses), they are dead.″

He said a total of 60 bodies had been recovered in Monterrey and downstream Saturday but a ″considerable number″ of people were still missing.

″The current carried more bodies but we don’t how many there are,″ said Coroner Juventio Guerrero in the suburban township of Guadalupe.

Four policemen were swept to their deaths trying to rescue the bus passengers, said Comandante Antulio Alejo, commander of the Cobra police unit. The National Civil Defense System in Mexico City said two volunteers helping the police officers were missing.

Alejo also said that at the same spot ″There are several cars buried there also and we understand that some bodies are still in some of the cars.″

Weather stations reported that Hurricane Gilbert, during a 28-hour period beginning Friday and ending Saturday morning, poured 12 inches of rain on Monterrey.

As the water began to subside Saturday afternoon the wheels and chassis of one overturned bus could be seen. The vehicle was buried up to the wheels by mud and rocks.

Nearby and partially buried were construction machines and other vehicles that had been carried by the raging waters into the river.

Eduardo Pichardo, an employee of Transportes Frontera in Monterrey, said about 64 people were aboard the two buses from his company. He said one bus was en route to Monterrey from the border city of Nuevo Laredo and the other was on a run from Monterrey to Mexico City.

Police said the buses were coming from the direction of Saltillo, about 55 miles west of Monterrey. Saltillo, a city of about 450,000, is the capital of neighboring Coahuila state. Police said the buses probably had been diverted from their original routes because of flooded roads.

They said rising water stranded the buses on a low-lying stretch of road parallel to the river. As a special police unit, the Cobras, tried to rescue the passengers, the current increased, the water rose and the buses overturned.

Downstream from Monterrey, bodies were being recovered from the river, police said.

The bodies of an elderly woman, a small boy and two men, all unidentified, were found in the town of Juarez 14 miles east of Monterrey, said federal police spokesman Felipe de Jesus Banda Martinez.

In Cadereyta, 20 miles east of Monterrey, a police spokesman said another ″eight or ten bodies have been pulled out of the river.″

At noon EDT Saturday, the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, Fla. issued its final advisory on Gilbert.

It said the center of the storm was near latitude 25.5 north and longitude 101.0 west or about 220 miles west southwest of Brownsville, Texas, and 45 miles southwest of Monterrey.

Maximum sustained winds were estimated to be near 35 mph and the storm was expected to weaken further. But rainfall of 10 to 15 inches was forecast, with up to 20 inches in some areas.

It was the second time in three days that Gilbert slammed into Mexico.

The storm hit the Yucatan Peninsula on Wednesday and killed at least 29 people after leaving 69 people dead in the Caribbean.

Gilbert, which turned into a hurricane Sept. 10, killed 26 in Jamaica, 30 in Haiti, five in the Dominican Republic and eight in Honduras.

The storm at one point packed sustained winds of 175 mph and had gusts of more than 200 mph. It was the most intense storm on record in terms of barometric pressure, which was measured at 26.13, breaking the 26.35 inches recorded for the 1935 hurricane that devastated the Florida Keys.

The storm left 500,000 homeless and caused $8 billion in damage in Jamaica. In Haiti, the military government declared a state of emergency in three southern regions, where 50 to 60 percent of the agricultural production was destroyed.

The storm left the eastern Yucatan resort of Cancun in shambles. About 300,000 people were homeless in Yucatan state and 10,000 more homeless in Campeche, on the west coast of the peninsula, said Notimex, the Mexican news agency.

Gilbert stranded 8,000 tourists in Cancun and Cozumel, left much of the peninsula without power or communications and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

The storm came ashore again Friday afternoon along a sparsely populated stretch of the Gulf of Mexico coast south of Matamoros.

It quickly began to dissipate into torrential rains and high winds that drenched the northeastern states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and Coahuila.

In Texas, heavy rains fell on Brownsville, with gusts up to 82 mph recorded at nearby Padre Island, but the vulnerable coastal area escaped the worst of the storm.

A woman was killed Saturday morning when a tornado hit her mobile home in Bexar County, Texas. A second person died in San Antonio when a utility pole crashed into a house.

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