The Miami Herald
October 25, 1999
Mexico learning to live with floods
Some refuse to evacuate their homes

 Associated Press

 VILLAHERMOSA, Mexico -- Otilio Perez de la Cruz has always made a living
 from the water. Now he lives in it. Sardines dart from his bedroom to his living
 room. Sometimes they tickle his shins while he watches television.

 For nearly a month, the second-generation fisherman-turned-fish-vendor and his
 family of four have lived in thigh-high water in his one-story home.

 Heavy rain and mudslides have caused massive flooding across southeastern
 Mexico and this month alone have killed more than 400 people, according to
 official figures -- and many more, according to unofficial accounts.

 The damage has been especially heavy in Villahermosa, capital of the state of
 Tabasco, with 190,000 people displaced from this city of 465,000 since

 But many, like the Perez family, have opted to stay in their homes to fend off
 looters. The Perez family now lives on a series of planks balanced on buckets.
 The planks start at what was their porch and lead from room to room. Their
 belongings are stacked on tables. Remarkably, they have electricity.

 Authorities on Saturday opened the flood gates of the Penitas dam in the
 neighboring state of Chiapas because it was filled beyond capacity and in danger
 of bursting from the weeks of heavy rain.

 Water levels were expected to rise by as much as 20 inches in already flooded
 areas and boost dangerously high rivers as a result. Authorities said the water
 would be released gradually, and no major damage from the release was reported

 But areas of Villahermosa already were sitting under as much as 6 1/2 feet of

 Colonia La Manga II, a working-class neighborhood where Perez lives, has spent
 the past month under five feet of water -- before the flood gates were opened.
 Residents said they were even seeing crocodiles that escaped after flood waters
 swept over a nearby hatchery. One woman was surprised by two coral snakes as
 she was doing dishes.

 ``If the water gets to here,'' said Perez, 40, pointing to his chest, ``then we'll have
 to go and call it a loss. But until then, I'm not leaving. There are too many thieves
 around here.''

 Here in Colonia La Manga II, residents like Perez struggle to maintain their daily
 routine. Women lug shopping bags from the mall, kick off their high heels and hop
 aboard dugout canoes to row home. Teenagers canoe to their friends' homes.
 Neighbors yell greetings and exchange gossip as they float past each other.

 ``But you feel bad,'' said resident Laura Hernandez Martinez, 16. ``The water
 stinks, and a lot of kids are starting to get sick. Sometimes I feel like it'll never go

                     Copyright 1999 Miami Herald