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Tuesday, October 19, 1999 Published at 07:36 GMT 08:36 UK


World: Americas

Mexican floods: 'Death by a thousand cuts'

A child contemplates the ruins of a house in Puebla

By Peter Greste in Zacatlan, Mexico

"Death by a thousand cuts," was the way one of President Ernesto Zedillo's aides described the fate of Mexicans living in the south central highlands.

Almost three weeks after the worst flooding in four decades swamped southern Mexico, many towns and villages still have not received any food, water or medical supplies.

There have been a few major floods and mudslides, like the one at Tezuitlan that killed as many as 100 people; but there are literally thousands of other small landslides that have each caused their own problems.


[ image: A woman cradles her child in the path of the mudslide that swept away her house in Puebla]
A woman cradles her child in the path of the mudslide that swept away her house in Puebla
President Zedillo has been touring the state of Puebla, viewing the damage from his helicopter, and from the air it is obvious.

In one place, a farmer's dam has burst; it missed his house but wiped out the crop he had hoped would get his family through the coming winter.

In another, a collapsed dirt bank blocks the roads linking a dozen villages with their markets; and further along, erosion has undermined three houses.

They are still standing, but their owners have left; it is only a matter of time before they turn into piles of matchwood.

No food, no water

Alone, each problem is not significant, but, multiplied thousands of times across the country, it amounts to a disaster of major proportions.


[ image: Aurelio Cisneros hauls his belongings in the Mexican state of Veracruz]
Aurelio Cisneros hauls his belongings in the Mexican state of Veracruz
The state governor of Puebla told President Zedillo that it would take at least two months to re-open one major highway linking the city of Zacatlan with the state capital.

But the desperation of villagers is now clear. On his tour around the Ahuacatlan district, dozens of villagers broke through the security cordon to beg the president for help.

"We've got nothing to eat, we need food and medicine for our children," said one woman in tears.

Cholera and dysentery are spreading and respiratory infections are rife.


[ image: Bad weather forced President Zedillo to abandon his helicopter]
Bad weather forced President Zedillo to abandon his helicopter
Standing on top of a mudslide, Mr Zedillo said opening roads and restoring power and phone links to cut-off villages was now a priority.

Without that, there is a real limit to what aid the government can deliver, even with helicopters.

The president's entourage was forced to abandon their helicopters on a remote mountain-top.

Dense fog made it impossible to fly, and even more bad weather is forecast.



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