Friday, May 06, 2005

Oaxaca and Chiapas struck by gigantic thunderstorms - 9 dead

In Oaxaca State we've got 9 dead and an unknown number missing in Oaxaca City alone, unknown how many deaths in the outlying towns and villages. About 5000 known evacuated from their partially or completely destroyed homes.

I have lived through some horrendous hailstorms before, including hail that was tennis ball-sized and damaged my car (I had to stand in my garage and watch it happen. I was afraid to run into the driveway to try to move the car for fear I'd get killed by a hailstone). But I have never seen a hailstorm last for 45 minutes. The hailstones were not too large, about .5in in diameter, but 45 minutes of this raging downpour left ice piled up in some areas 3 feet deep. I was unable to open my back door all night because of the ice piled up behind it. I finally forced it open about 8:00 the next morning, after overnight temperatures didn't drop much below 70ºF. The storm struck us in Oaxaca city about 10:30 PM. The wind and rain came first followed by the hail about 10 minutes later. The hailstorm lasted some 45 minutes and the torrential rain continued for about 15 minutes longer, or about 70 minutes of punishment. A really BIG storm. Some friends of mine were at the cinema and the roof partially collapsed on them from the weight of the ice. They were not hurt, just very frightened.

Now come the Mexican authorities, local, state and federal, to declare that they will immediately leap into the breach and come to the aid of all those affected. What this means is that they will all disappear in about 48 hours and the affected will receive nothing. The Mexican government's reaction to disasters is something to behold. The last big hurricane that hit the west coast is a prime example. The entire country mobilized to collect a myriad of aid items such as drinking water, blankets, food, medical supplies etc. Trucking services were donated to haul the much-needed supplies to the coastal areas hardest hit. Much of these supplies were then found being sold on the streets of the affected communities, including Puerto Vallarta, at 3-4-5 times their normal cost by the local politicians who had confiscated them upon arrival.

The scope of this disaster does, of course, pale in comparison to a major hurricane strike, but the relief effort result will be the same. The federal, state and local governments simply lack the resources, infrastructure, the will, and, most importantly, the culture to help anyone in need.

And that is a real shame because there are many individual Mexicans, both civilian (witness the huge amount of relief items collecte and their movement to the coast) as well as government (firefighters, police, doctors and nurses) that do have the will and the culture to jump to the aid of those in need. It is the government agencies, and there are dozens, if not hundreds of them, that stand in the way of the willing and the able.

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