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Wednesday, October 6, 1999 Published at 00:24 GMT 01:24 UK

World: Americas

Southern Mexico bears brunt of flooding

Heavy rains have caused havoc across central America

The heaviest rains in 40 years have been pummelling southern Mexico, causing rivers to flood and thousands to flee their homes.

BBC's Central America Correspondent Peter Greste: "Dozens of roads are closed"
The government has declared a state of emergency in the state of Tabasco, where at least five people have been killed.

And the deluge is not yet over. Weather forecasters are predicting at least 24 hours of torrential downpour, which could mean as much as 35cm of rain.

Southern Mexico is bearing the brunt of wider flooding across Central America, which has barely recovered from the devastation wrought last year by Hurricane Mitch.

[ image:  ]
The latest extreme weather conditions, caused by a tropical depression in the Gulf of Campeche, have flooded five rivers in Tabasco and caused about 53,000 to abandon their homes in search of safety.

In the neighbouring state of Veracruz at least two people have died.

The federal government has declared four municipalities in Tabasco disaster zones and local officials have sent the military to help evacuate residents of some 100 towns along three major rivers.

The National Water Commission has warned that, on top of the rainfall, it may have to release water backed up behind hydro-electric dams upstream to stop them bursting.

[ image: A member of the Nicaraguan Red Cross rescues a young boy]
A member of the Nicaraguan Red Cross rescues a young boy
This could cause the state's five main rivers to rise by an additional 30cm.

State officials in the neighbouring state of Chiapas, which serves as a watershed for Tabasco, have already let some water go from the Penitas reserve.

To the north-west, heavy rain forced authorities in the state of Hidalgo to release water from La Esperanza dam, causing two rivers to flood and sending thousands to emergency shelters

"We could have a catastrophic situation," said Gilberto Segovia, an official for the commission.

All eyes are now on Tabasco's state capital, Villahermosa, where the Grijalva river - one of the country's biggest - and the Carrizal river have flooded due to nearly a week of rain.

Airport closure

The rains have also forced officials to close the airport in the city of Oaxaca, which is disastrous news for victims of last week's earthquake, who have been depending on airlifted relief supplies.

Dozens of roads are closed, either by flooding or mud slides.

Beyond Mexico's borders the effects of the tropical depression have been felt in other Central American states. Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador have already suffered from three weeks of heavy downpours.

In total more than 50 people have been killed and 100,000 have been forced to evacuate.

Some large areas are facing epidemics and food shortages .

Millions of dollars worth of crops across the region have been ruined and outbreaks of malaria, cholera and dengue fever have been reported in some of the worst hit areas.

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