After floods, Mexico's Tabasco rebounds

Government response has been praised, but the poorest are still looking for work or new homes.

At first Socorro Osorio considered herself fortunate. When the flooding put nearly 70 percent of the state of Tabasco under water last November, many had no workplace the next morning. In her case, the home where she labored as a cleaning lady survived the flood.

But the single mother says she couldn't leave her three young children alone in their flooded home. Her employers found a new cleaner. "I'm trying hard to find something else, to bring food to my kids, but it's not easy," says Ms. Osorio.

Three months after one of Mexico's worst natural disasters hit this petroleum-rich state in southern Mexico, signs of normalcy abound. The roads are navigable, the debris is cleared. Of 158,656 people once living in shelters, only a fraction remain homeless. Last week, the last food supplies were distributed by the state. New homes are on the rise, and of the 10,000 companies that were forced to temporarily shut down, many have been renovated and reopened.

But many of those in the informal economy, like Osorio, are still looking for work. All interviewed say they are grateful for their health and survival, but it's a long road to full recovery.

"Our biggest challenge is reconstruction," says Rúrico Domínguez, director of the state's civil protection agency. The government predicts rebuilding will take three years and cost $650 million.

But for some, like Francisco Geronimo Lazaro-Torres, rebuilding has yet to begin. Days before the flood, he received a loan from the government to buy equipment to start a business as an electrician. All of his tools, costing about $2,500, were ruined.

This week, he stood outside a governor's office trying to get another loan. "I'm doing jobs here and there, but it's not enough to survive," he says. "If I don't get a loan, I'm going to the US [to look for work] at the beginning of next month."

The state government has given out small loans to those who can prove they lost their jobs due to the floods, says Mr. Domínguez. Residents have also received $1,000 vouchers to purchase new stoves and refrigerators. But many are still struggling. Only one shelter, housing 1,400 people, is still operating. Domínguez says the government needs six months to study where to rebuild 3,000 new homes.

For now, nonprofits are helping. The Chilean-based group, A Roof for My Country, last week completed construction of 150 homes. "We used to have a dirt floor. Now it is so beautiful, I can't believe it," says Lydia Alvarado Mena, who has just moved in.

But she worries about future flooding. The government says it is working on a plan, but many are skeptical.

The government has been widely praised for its recovery effort: 45 tons of humanitarian aid was distributed. Some 11,500 military members were sent to the area, and all major disease outbreaks were avoided. The government maintains that not a single death directly related to the floods was reported. "My greatest pride," says Domínguez,"is that the state, in spite of all the adversity, lost no lives."

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