IMAGE: A RESIDENT OF PIEDRAS NEGRAS WALKS BY CAR SWEPT AWAY BY TORRENTS OF WATER
Henry Romero  /  Reuters
A resident walks past a car that was swept away by raging torrents of water after flash floods swept through the Mexican town of Piedras Negras.
updated 4/7/2004 2:21:47 PM ET 2004-04-07T18:21:47

Skies once filled with threatening clouds cleared and the cleanup of the destruction caused by flooding that killed 34 people got under way in this town on the U.S. border.

But even as hundreds began picking up the pieces of their damaged homes and water-logged belongings, many of their neighbors were burying loved ones.

Bulldozers rumbled through the streets, and soldiers and city employees tossed debris into garbage trucks, doing their best to pick through the rubble of toppled cars, demolished buildings and smashed furniture.

2,000 in shelters
Torrential rain beginning Sunday night caused the Escondido River to overflow, triggering flash flooding that damaged 600 homes, destroyed 150 others and left 2,000 people in makeshift shelters.

Electricity had been restored to a portion of Villa de Fuente, the working class neighborhood hit hardest by the floods, said Marcela Aguirre, a spokeswoman for Piedras Negras, a town of 200,000 some 150 miles southwest of San Antonio, Texas.

The federal government promised an initial allocation of more than $3 million to rebuild damaged homes and replace lost belongings, Social Development Department Josefina Vazquez announced Tuesday, after touring the area.

“Some of the houses should be relocated,” Vazquez told W Radio on Wednesday morning. “They can’t go back to constructing on the river’s edge, because it is a very high-risk zone.”

Officials said they hoped to complete their damage assessment by Saturday.

When 36-year-old Manuel Gallegos returned to his home Tuesday, he found the roof had been blown off and all that was left was a muddy table and chairs that had been scattered around.

Gallegos had shared the dwelling near the river’s edge with his elderly parents and sister. The family’s makeshift store, which had been part of the house, was swept away.

“We made our living from that store but all that is left is the sign,” Gallegos said as he pointed to a beer sign attached to a yellow post laying on the ground. “But at least we all made it out alive.”

Funerals for young, old
Not far away, dozens gathered in Piedras Negras public cemetery, holding flowers and weeping as Marina Esparza, a 33-year-old housewife, and her 6-year-old daughter were buried.

The two drowned after the truck their family was riding in was flipped over by the rushing current. Esparza’s husband and four boys survived.

A few feet away, Raymundo de Luna buried his grandmother, 84-year-old Graciela Hernandez, his mother, Asuncion Scott, 70, and sister, 47-year-old Ofelia Scott. The three drowned after water trapped them in their home.

“My mother yelled to climb on the rooftop,” de Luna said. “My nephews and I went up there and then climbed a tree, but (the three victims) weren’t able to make it.”

De Luna said he and his nephews clung to a tree for six hours before they were rescued by helicopter.

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