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Mexican Pacific coast reels from 2 hurricane hits

The cleanup efforts November 13, 1997
Web posted at: 6:47 p.m. EST (2347 GMT)

From Correspondent Chris Kline

PINOTEPA, Mexico (CNN) -- Mexico's southern Pacific coast was just beginning to recover from Hurricane Pauline's fury when Hurricane Rick struck this week.

Pauline left a wide swath of destruction and many fatalities when it came ashore in October, hitting the resort city of Acapulco particularly hard. Rick, fortunately, did not bring the same level of destruction or claim any lives.

In the small city of Pinotepa in Oaxaca state, directly in Rick's path, some roads and bridges collapsed, but most people had to deal with no more than the garbage which flood waters brought to their doorstop.

The damage in Acapulco, Mexico

While Pauline caught people in Acapulco and elsewhere unaware, Oaxacan civil defense authorities say satellite imagery allowed them to track Rick and provide ample warning time.

Closer to Oaxaca's coastline, the farmers of El Cerro de la Esperanza, a town whose name in English means "Mountain of Hope," didn't escape unscathed. Devastated by Pauline, menaced by Rick, they are still reeling.

Maria Roques now lives in a cardboard hut with the few possessions she has left. The laminated cardboard is all the aid the government gave her. Where her thatched house once stood, there is now only a mud patch.

To rebuild her house, she says she must pay the state money she doesn't have, the equivalent of $17 a week.

Gabriel Ayona was a little luckier -- part of his adobe home is still standing. But much that his family owned was washed away, and the house is mostly an empty shell.

His corral was also destroyed, and, even worse, he lost his chickens, his only horse and four of his nine cows.

Ayona, like many of the villagers, is of mixed Mexican and African ancestry, descended in part from the survivors of a slave ship that foundered off the coast two centuries ago. He says life has always been hard, and things are no different now.

"We're going to work. We're going to start over, rebuild our house," Ayona said. "You see how we live."

Bernardo Arzate

His neighbor, Bernardo Arzate, saw his corn fields ravaged by the hurricanes; his entire crop was ruined.

Half his house is gone, but, with concrete he mixed himself, he says he will rebuild it brick by brick. He has little confidence that he will receive government support.

"These words, these promises, are gone with the wind," he said. "We want real help, not charity."

At an angry meeting with relief officials, local villagers refused offers to rebuild elsewhere. They say the swollen river that wrecked their village is also what makes their fields fertile -- and is also the reason their town is named Mountain of Hope.

The people of southwestern Mexico say they now live in constant fear of another hurricane, and many admit they will never get used to it. The common refrain is a familiar one -- only God can decide to spare them from another disaster.


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