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At least 31 dead in Mexican flash floods


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Emergency crews searched for survivors early yesterday after downpours triggered flash floods that tore through this town on the US border, killing 31 and leaving at least a dozen more missing.

Mexican President Vicente Fox declared a state of emergency in Piedras Negras, a town of 200,000 in Coahuila state, 240km southwest of San Antonio, Texas. Coahuila Governor Enrique Martinez called the flooding some of the worst in the history of the US-Mexico border region, saying "the magnitude of destruction is enormous."

Emergency crews had recovered the bodies of 31 victims, but said more than a dozen others had yet to be accounted for. About 100 homes were severely damaged or demolished completely and thousands of people were living in makeshift shelters in municipal buildings.

Fox ordered soldiers to the area to aid in search and rescue efforts as well as begin the process of cleaning the destruction of flood waters, which carried away cars, light poles and the walls and roofs of homes and left the area littered with furniture and debris.

Police urged those whose homes were still standing to remain in government shelters overnight, warning that a new wave of rain could trigger more flooding.

Five neighborhoods hit hardest were without electricity, gas service and potable water, but Martinez said basic services should be restored to much of Piedras Negras by yesterday.

Some people could be allowed to return home in the morning, if the rain holds off, the governor said.

The skies opened Sunday night, unleashing heavy rains and swelling water levels by 8m in the Escondido River, which flows into the Rio Grande.

As the rain intensified, the Escondido poured over its banks, unleashing a wall of water that engulfed dozens of houses in Villa de Fuente, a working class neighborhood of tin-roof shacks.

At a shelter waiting for emergency rations Monday, 19-year-old Maria Melendez said she rushed outside with her three children when she heard a growing roar in the distance. The family lived in a shack of sticks and aluminum in the Colonia Perodistas, another area where floodwaters first struck.

They watched as water inundated some homes and toppling others. By the time they had returned to their house, the water was already seeping in from all directions. In a matter of minutes, their possessions had been washed away.

"Everything was turned upside down," Mendez said.

By midnight, the flooding had spread to several nearby enclaves, forcing dozens of residents to scramble on top of roofs or climb trees and light poles. There they waited for hours for emergency crews.

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