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Forgotten on election day in Mexico, a flooded neighborhood copes

July 4, 2011 |  6:12 pm

Ecatepec flooding mexico 2

Sunday was election day in Mexico's most populous state, and as widely expected, voters gave a resounding victory to the gubernatorial candidate with the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

But in Colonia Franja del Valle de Mexico, one neighborhood in the state of Mexico, residents did not have the time or the energy to go the polls. They spent most of Sunday piling up the debris of the homes, ruined after a canal overflowed in heavy rains late last week.

With feelings of anger and helplessness, residents of this working-class colonia in the municipality of Ecatepec described a harrowing scene Thursday night when the Rio de los Remedios canal, which runs alongside the area, burst into their houses. There has been no help yet from the government, they said.

"From one moment to the next, we looked out the window, and the water was upon us," said Ignacio Ramirez, 59, a security guard.

"What did I do? I went over the wall to the neighbor's, but the water was already up to my neck. We tried opening the door but the pressure wouldn't let us," Ramirez went on. "The current took us and slammed us against the walls."

Ramirez stood with his family inside their cement-brick home, where the line marking the reach of the flood waters — a brown smudge about the height of an average-sized man — was still visible on the kitchen wallpaper. Their refrigerator, stove, television set, couches, and nearly every other piece of furniture touched by the "black waters" of the Rio de los Remedios were stacked on the muddy street outside.

Food, clothes, personal belongings, all ruined and gone. Cars and trucks in driveways out back were also useless now.

By Sunday the waters had receded, but it was more of the same all over the street. Residents said they felt abandoned by the government, even during a time of year — an election — when officials usually make sure to be extra-attentive to constituent needs.

"This is a no-man's-land," Ramirez said.

Ecatepec flooding mexico 2

The Rio de los Remedios is an ancient causeway that carries both rainfall runoff and sewer water out from this dense urban zone in the northern region of metropolitan Mexico City. It sits on the border between the Federal District and the State of Mexico, and therefore falls confusedly under the jurisdiction of several local and federal water agencies.

It floods routinely, a problem that the National Water Commission is attempting to tackle with the construction of new drainage infrastructure in the area, a commission spokesman told La Plaza.

But residents here said last week's disaster during Tropical Storm Arlene was unlike anything they had ever seen. State Gov. Enrique Pena Nieto said 60,000 families were affected in 35 colonias, and that his government was doing everything possible to get aid to the victims (link in Spanish). 

They didn't seem to believe that in Colonia Franja del Valle de Mexico.

A few public workers appeared to be moving debris and sandbags a few blocks over on Sunday afternoon, and on the other side of the river, soldiers from the Mexican army had set up a makeshift camp. Otherwise, neighbors were fending for themselves.

When a utility truck rode through, the residents teamed up and "kidnapped" it, they said, preventing the driver from getting out without first loading the truck with their ruined belongings. When word spread that a reporter was on the street, residents flocked, eager to complain about the lack of government aid.

"It was a total loss," said a woman who identified herself as Laura, 32. "I think the party that's in power now, I will not be voting for."

Whether Laura or any of her neighbors voted for the PRI on Sunday mattered little in the broader picture. The party, who many in Mexico still see as the bogeyman of Mexican politics, swept up its biggest victory in the State of Mexico in more than a generation.

PRI candidate Eruviel Avila beat his leftist and conservative rivals by more than 30 points, a staggering defeat in what is now effectively a march for the PRI toward the presidential race in 2012. Pena Nieto, the current governor of the state and a rising star in the party, is the front-runner in that race. 

"We thought the governor, what's his name? Pena Nieto, was going to come here, but no one has shown their face," said Ramirez's son, Francisco, while reviewing damage in the family's backyard, just steps from the muddy wall that separates the Rio de los Remedios from his house. 

"People here are, you might say, of a lower economic standing," Francisco sighed. "So we go with the promises of help. ... This is years of work that the water took in just a few minutes."

Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Top Photo: Residents load ruined debris onto a "kidnapped" truck in the Colonia Franja del Valle de Mexico, Ecatepec, State of Mexico, July 3, 2011. Credit: Daniel Hernandez / Los Angeles Times. Bottom Photo: Resident Efren Solano, 46, reviews damage to his automobile after flooding from the Rio de los Remedios. Credit: Special to La Plaza / Los Angeles Times

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