Image: Mexico refugees
David De La Paz  /  EPA
People affected by Mexican floods line up to receive goods and clothes Wednesday in Villahermosa, Mexico. Around 1,500 helicopter flights full of humanitarian aid have not been enough to meet demand.
msnbc.com news services
updated 11/7/2007 11:19:44 PM ET 2007-11-08T04:19:44

Tens of thousands of Mexicans forced into makeshift shelters by massive flooding are threatened by ailments ranging from colds to cholera, health officials said Wednesday.

Some 80,000 people from the flooded city of Villahermosa have taken refuge in crammed schools, churches and a multistory parking garage.

Colds, respiratory illnesses and foot fungus have become common, and doctors in the tropical city fear outbreaks of more serious diseases like cholera due to a lack of running water.

"The risk now is infections. There could be an epidemic," said Ramon de Jesus Velarde, the head of Tabasco state preventive health program. He said cholera and dengue fever were the main threats.

Standing water attracts mosquitoes, which can carry infectious diseases like dengue. Cholera is transmitted by contaminated water.

Officials fear mosquitoes
Days of heavy rains last week put most of Tabasco state, including the capital Villahermosa, under several feet of water, in what was one of the largest natural disasters in recent Mexican history.

Swarms of mosquitoes buzzed around the head of Leticia Frias, 40, as she herded livestock in a field turned into a swamp on the outskirts of the city.

"We're worried about the flies now that pools of water have formed," said Frias, who has sheltered in a wooden hut at the roadside for the last eight days after her home was flooded.

The floods, caused by rivers overflowing, killed at least three people and damaged about $655 million worth of crops, homes, businesses and infrastructure.

Mudslide death toll rises
The death toll from a massive mudslide that destroyed a village in the southern Mexico state of Chiapas rose to four, the governor said Wednesday, as rescue workers searched for another 21 missing villagers.

Chiapas Gov. Juan Sabines said three women and a man died in the wave of mud and water late Sunday, and it was unlikely the 21 missing villagers would be found alive.

Image: Map of Mexico
“We have to call them missing, but it is hard to hold out much hope of finding them alive,” Sabines told a local radio station.

State civil defense officials had earlier reported finding three bodies after a hillside collapsed into a river near the tiny town of San Juan Grijalva, home to about 600 people.

Residents said they were awakened by a loud rumbling as mud and rocks rolled down from surrounding hilltops. When the hillside collapsed into the Grijalva River, it also created at least one enormous wave of water that swept over dozens of homes. Sabines described it as a “mini-tsunami.”

Civil Protection officials previously had estimated that from 12 to 14 people were missing but increased the number after interviewing neighbors and family members in the area. San Juan Grijalva is located about 45 miles south of Villahermosa, capital of the flooded Gulf coast state of Tabasco.

About 50 rescue workers were searching for missing villagers by land and four divers were searching in the Rio Grijalva.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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