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Hurricane Stan leaves 300,000 needing help in Mexico

MEXICO CITY—Rescuers with emergency supplies of food and water can't reach more than 300,000 people in mountainous regions of Mexico's Chiapas state cut off by flooding and mudslides in the aftermath of Hurricane Stan, officials said Friday.

States of emergency have been declared in at least six Mexican states because of the storm, which previously had devastated huge regions of Central America.

Flooding caused by the storm has damaged or destroyed most of the bridges linking Chiapas state with Guatemala to the south.

"There're at least 300,000 people in the region who are not receiving any kind of help," said Chiapas Gov. Pablo Salazar Mendiguchia. He said floods and mudslides had affected at least 1 million residents of his state.

President Vicente Fox flew to Chiapas on Friday, and hundreds of soldiers were pressed into service to rescue people and open shelters in the state.

The U.S. Embassy was sending $100,000 worth of food, and Salazar said 50 tons of food and other aid have been donated by private businesses.

"It's devastating. Much of the city is gone. There's hardly any food left. People are desperate," said Maripaz Herrera, the manager of the Hotel Kamico in Tapachula, a city of 400,000 on the border with Guatemala.

"We're running out of everything. This is the worst disaster we've had," she said in a telephone interview.

Tens of thousands in seven southern Mexican states Friday were forced to flee their homes as heavy rains and flooding swept the region. Television reports showed dozens of cars and homes buried under mounds of mud.

The state oil company Pemex said it had evacuated 270 workers from its offshore Gulf Coast and Yucatan Peninsula platforms before the storm hit land.

Fox declared states of emergency for Chiapas, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Puebla, Hidalgo, Guerrero, Jalisco and Tabasco. The official death toll from the storm stood at 225 in Mexico and Central America.

But officials acknowledge it is expected to rise much higher when rains cease. Weather officials say that likely won't happen until Tuesday.

Adding danger and fear was a strong earthquake that shook both Guatemala and El Salvador on Friday afternoon. It caused already damaged highways and bridges to collapse in Guatemala and sent thousands of residents in both Central American nations fleeing into the streets.

There were no immediate reports of injuries from the quake, which had a preliminary magnitude of 5.8. Telephone service also was cut off briefly in some areas of El Salvador.

The quake follows the eruption of the Lametepec volcano, which erupted Saturday 40 miles south of El Salvador's capital of San Salvador.

"The impact of this hurricane is overwhelming," Fox said. "It's affecting practically all of southern Mexico, and hundreds of thousands of families are in dire misery."

Stan is the most recent storm of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, one of the deadliest in years. The season ends Nov. 30.


(Special correspondent Janet Schwartz contributed to this report.)


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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