By Jonathan Roeder
Catholic News Service
MEXICO CITY (CNS) — As Hurricane Dean moved west and weakened to a tropical depression, it left widespread flooding across Mexico’s Gulf Coast and left at least three people dead.
They were killed in the Mexican states of Veracruz and Hidalgo, according to separate statements by the states’ governors Aug. 23. Meanwhile, the heavy rains caused rivers to overflow and dozens of landslides that blocked roads and highways in the region.
The state leaders said that 37,000 people had taken refuge in regional shelters, and thousands of homes were damaged. Widespread crop damage also was reported.
In the neighboring state of Puebla, television images showed muddy, turbulent rivers and continuing rains.
Eufemio Flores, emergency coordinator for Caritas Mexico, warned that the risk of further mudslides was still high because the rains had loosened soil on eroded mountain slopes.
“Even though Dean is now a tropical depression, the amount of rain that we’re still expecting is considerable,” Flores told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview Aug. 23. Flores said Caritas workers were assessing the situation and dispensing emergency supplies.
Caritas Mexico is a local affiliate of Caritas Internationalis, the international network of Catholic aid and development agencies.
Meanwhile, relief efforts continued on the Yucatan Peninsula, where Dean hit as a rare category 5 hurricane in the early hours of Aug. 21. The storm destroyed an estimated 60,000 acres of crops and damaged homes in indigenous Mayan communities.
Father Francisco Velazquez Trejo, a director for Caritas Mexico in the state of Campeche on the western side of the Yucatan Peninsula, said the hurricane had flooded the island city of Ciudad del Carmen. Dean also caused widespread damage to the region’s agricultural fields and communities of indigenous Maya, many of whom live in impoverished conditions.
“The region’s poorest inhabitants were the worst hit,” Father Velazquez said.
The storm also leveled trees and power lines across the southern portion of the peninsula.
After crossing the Yucatan and emerging in the Gulf of Mexico, Dean made its second landfall Aug. 22 on Mexico’s Gulf coast near Tecolutla, north of the port city of Veracruz.
Flooding, electrical failure and downed trees were reported in Chetumal, 240 miles south of the tourist resort of Cancun, and surrounding areas. In Cancun and nearby areas, damage was light.
Dean also hit Belize to the south, causing damage but no deaths.
Thousands of tourists evacuated the Caribbean coasts of Mexico and Belize before the storm hit.
The hurricane killed at least 20 people as it passed through Haiti, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and the Dominican Republic.
In 2005, Hurricane Wilma pummeled Cancun for a full day and caused an estimated $3 billion in damage. Some recovery efforts from the massive storm are still ongoing.