Tens of thousands of people have fled to shelters in south-eastern Mexico after the worst floods in living memory in the area destroyed their homes and harvests. The authorities say the floods are expected to get worse.

Rooftops peeked above the water yesterday in the city of Villahermosa, capital of the state of Tabasco, which has been the worst hit by the catastrophe. Vast swaths of agricultural land throughout the state were under water. Some of the giant nine-metre stone heads carved by America's first great civilisation, the Olmecs, were only half visible at the La Venta archaeological site.

"In 48 hours the state has been devastated," the state's governor, Andres Granier, said. He stressed the particularly difficult situation of the capital. "Villahermosa is in a hole, below the level of the rivers," he told a news programme as he appealed for help from the army. "We are just like New Orleans in 2005. All the water that comes in has to be pumped out."

Mr Granier said 20,000 people were already in shelters, but added that 150,000 more people had refused to leave their homes, and might have to be evacuated by force. More than 7,000 people were reportedly evacuated to shelters in the neighbouring state of Chiapas.

The flooding began at the weekend when heavy and unrelenting rain began to fall throughout the area. By yesterday seven rivers had burst their banks, several reservoirs had overflowed and an important dam was looking vulnerable.

With the local authorities overwhelmed President Felipe Calderon offered "all the help humanly possible", before flying to the area, filling a few sandbags and attending emergency meetings in Villahermosa airport. As night fell, he announced that he had ordered the ministers of defence and the navy to abort some of their other missions to attend to the emergency in Tabasco. He also appealed to the general population to provide food, water, soap, blankets, mattresses and nappies, among a long list of things that would become essential in the aftermath of the floods.

"Hundreds of thousands of Tabasquenos need support, not only from the federal government but also from ordinary Mexicans," he said. "I call on all Mexico for help."

Floodwaters swamp Mexican state
BBC News

Tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes in Mexico where massive floods have swamped much of the south-eastern state of Tabasco.

"We have lost 100% of our crops and 70% of the state is under water," Tabasco's governor said.

Rescuers have been using boats and helicopters to try to reach people stranded on rooftops.

The heavy rains began at the weekend, forcing rivers to burst their banks in the largely low-lying state.

"We are just like New Orleans," Tabasco governor Andres Granier said. "All the water that comes in has to be pumped out."


Mexican President Felipe Calderon flew to the area on Wednesday and said the federal government would be sending aid to help the estimated 400,000 people in Tabasco whose homes have been damaged.

An Olmec head partially underwater in Villahermosa, eastern Mexico

Rescue efforts continued throughout Wednesday to try to move people to safety but thousands are still stranded on roofs.

So far one person is known to have died in the floods.

Tabasco's capital, Villahermosa, and many other towns in the state have been turned into brown lakes with only treetops and roofs visible.

Soldiers and rescuers desperately stacked sandbags along Villahermosa's streets.

Sandbags were also placed around several giant heads carved by the Olmecs, an ancient pre-Columbian people, at Tabasco's La Venta archaeological site.

Flooding has also affected the southern state of Chiapas, where several thousand people have been moved to safety, Mexico's El Universal newspaper reported.