Assistance reaches flood-ravaged Mexico


SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH (Oct. 9, 1999) -- After flooding triggered mudslides

in southern and central Mexico that has killed more than 200 people and

buried scores of others alive, help is arriving from the U.S. from

several faith-based organizations.

Five truckloads of food and blankets left the Church of Jesus Christ of

Latter-Day Saints (LDS) Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City on Friday to

arrive in Mexico by mid-afternoon Saturday.

Wade Sperry, LDS manager of field operations, said that LDS church members

based in Mexico reported that, right now, these are the largest needs. "The

trucks will be sent to five different destinations within Mexico," he said.

States hardest hit include Chiapas, Tabasco, and Oaxaca, where it comes on

the heels of a recent earthquake.

"Our network of church members in that country indicated that food and

blankets would meet some of the biggest needs of the population in general,"

said Sperry.

The food and blankets were already stored in the center's warehouse, he

added. "We already have the supplies sorted and stored, and that's why we

can response in a matter of hours."

LDS is also considering sending a DC-8 airplane full of food and quilts to

Mexico, said Brent Weske, LDS international shipping specialist. "I plan to

coordinate the shipment as soon as it's approved," he said.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has also been coordinating response

through denominational partners based in Mexico. "We have been in touch with

the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Mexico as well as with

the Presbyterian Church in Oaxaca," said Susan Ryan, PDA coordinator for

international response. "The Reformed Church of America has particularly

strong relationships with the Presbyterian Church in Chiapas and worked

closely with them in response to flooding a year ago."

Church World Service representatives are also developing plans for a

coordinated response to the disaster by combining reports and initiatives

from the Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and others in Mexico.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief is also planning to support

response in Mexico with funds, material resources, and volunteers.

"The damage has been very significant," said Ryan. Government officials

predicted the death toll would rise as reports filter in from towns cut off

by mud and water. Meanwhile, local residents clawed at earth with their bare

hands trying to rescue buried family members and neighbors, until rescue

were able to reach remote towns. Heavy fog also blocked helicopter access.

People reported they could hear cries for help coming from under thick

layers of muck, but were unable to reach survivors.

Flooding sent rivers roaring over their banks in 10 states across the

southern and central portions of Mexico. More than 157,000 people have been

forced from their homes, and mud has buried countless homes, schools, and

public buildings.

Some parts of southeastern Mexico had received 2.5 feet of rainfall in two

days -- a total greater than the average annual rainfall for the Mexico City

area. Hundreds of people sought safety on their rooftops on Wednesday and

Thursday. Many were rescued by soldiers in launches while others build

makeshift rafts or used canoes to get to safety.

Though the rain has subsided, rivers and dams are still overflowing, the

streets are filled with water and the major highways have crumbled.

The community of Michun, 100 miles northeast of Mexico City, was

particularly hard hit. A landslide there covered a school and most of the

houses, burying some 70 people. That impoverished region was isolated by the

heavy rains and landslides, which blocked mountain passes into the area.

Some 30 people were buried when a mountainside slid down on another remote

town in the northern mountains, Zacatlan.

In more populated areas, hundreds of homes, shops, and businesses were also


Civil officials are calling this flood the worst in 40 years. Health

officials have been reporting cases of dengue, a mosquito-borne illness, as

well as skin and respiratory infections in the flooded areas.

The Mexican government and military are setting up shelters, and LDS, PDA,

CWS, and other faith-based groups are considering both short- and long-term

response in Mexico. Sperry said he anticipate a response that will last

"several months or longer, as long as the need exists."

He added that LDS may continue to ship food and blankets, and may also add

medical supplies as needs are indicated.

Collection centers in Mexico City have been set up to house medicine, water,

food, clothing and blankets.

Both Mexico and Central American suffered from extensive flooding as a

result of a tropical depression over the Gulf of Mexico that swept through

Central America, bringing with it a week of rain.

Response is also being planned for Central America, which was also hit hard

by flooding since hills were denuded after Hurricane Mitch. "There is little

to hold back soil from landslides. Bridges and roads are out. We have heard

from partners there who are in an assessment mode as well. We anticipate

responding to needs there as well," said Ryan.

Sperry said that LDS is also considering a response in Central America.

This effort will coincide with ongoing long-term response to Hurricane

Mitch, which killed an estimated 9,000 people in Central America last year.

In the past two weeks, 56 people have died there.

PDA has released an additional $500,000 to the Christian Commission for

Development as they continue their work in rebuilding.

Posted October 9, 1999

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