As Tabasco floodwaters recede, a spirit of recovery – and humor
Thousands are still living in shelters, but take boats back to retrieve valuables.
Down a street where the water has swallowed the cars and telephone booths, Eric Perez waits in a long line for a boat ride home.Skip to next paragraph
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The queue is for residents going to visit houses they were forced to abandon this past week, when floodwaters submerged most of the state of Tabasco. Their ferries are police or military boats or dinghies piloted by private citizens helping out. And they return not knowing what to expect.
Mr. Perez hops into a yellow raft with some family members and a few neighbors. Their boat is guided by volunteers from an adventure rafting team, who normally carry tourists in the neighboring state of Veracruz.
Nearly a week into the worst natural disaster in Mexico's recent history, hundreds of thousands in the state of Tabasco remain homeless, living in shelters, in the living rooms of neighbors' homes, or on the second floors of their flooded homes. Some 80,000 people, say officials, are thought to be trapped in remote areas of the state, but as floodwaters begin to recede, government officials say the relief effort is shifting from rescue to recovery, and not unlike the recuperation that marked the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, this state is preparing for a long and difficult process.
"We are in Stage 2 now," says Mario Bustillos, a Tabasco government employee who is helping to manage this dock – about 10 blocks from where the river's edge would normally be. His work includes organizing the transport of goods to residents who refuse to leave their homes, and shuttling back residents who need to retrieve their belongings. "It is going to be a long stage," he says.
On Monday, the streets of the state capital, Villahermosa – which remain a grid of canals instead of streets – were filled with residents. Many are anxiously making their way back to their homes, or preparing to take out clothes, pets, and anything else they need. A canoe passesfilled with computer monitors and hard drives; other boats carry dogs and chickens. It is eerily quiet.
Some residents attempt to swim down the streets. But most turn to volunteers like those from the rafting company Mexico Verde. The tour operator sent five rafts and 16 volunteers from Vera Cruz on Saturday to help reunify families, rescue animals, and pitch in any way possible. Mr. Bustillos says at least 250 volunteers like them are participating in the relief effort.
Perez hops out of the Mexico Verde raft, and looks across at his home, a second-floor apartment. "It's not ruined," he says with an exhale of relief. "Still we can't live there." He wades waist-deep in water across the street, unlocks his door, and flashes a thumb's-up sign: Nothing is stolen.
Officials estimate that nearly 1 million of the state's population of 2.2 million have been left homeless, their homes either completely destroyed or unlivable because of water damage and lack of drinking water or electricity. Hundreds of shelters across the state are full. Many residents have been bused to neighboring states. Many volunteers from Mexico City arrived Sunday night to set up another refugee center here in front of government buildings.