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Hurricane Alex catches Mexico off-guard

July 14, 2010 |  1:56 pm

Flooding in Santa Catarina

Hurricane Alex peaked at a maximum strength of Category 2 when it made landfall in Mexico's northeast June 30. By the time it dissipated over central western Mexico as a tropical depression on July 2, the hurricane and the torrential rains that followed its path had left between 15 and 30 people dead, according to Mexican reports. The flooding crippled so many cities and towns that the Mexican government is still only getting a handle on the damage -- some two weeks later.

Alex seems to have caught Mexico off-guard.

Tens of thousands -- some reports say millions -- of people remain affected across several states, including Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and Coahuila. The storm destroyed or seriously damaged bridges, roads, homes, hospitals and schools. The bustling city of Monterrey was left "beyond recognition," its industry belt severely hampered. Heavy rainfall swelled the Rio Grande (or Rio Bravo, as it is known south of the border) and forced the temporary closure of border-crossing bridges between Mexico and Texas. Thousands of big rigs -- the bolts of commerce between Mexico and the United States -- were stranded or swallowed by flooding. As recently as Monday, bodies were still being pulled from the floodwaters (link in Spanish).

Here's a photo gallery of some of the damage. And here are more pictures from AccuWeather.

Relief and aid are creeping into the affected areas, but rainfall keeps hammering the region, causing more flooding, more damage and more misery. On Wednesday, the daily Excelsior reported that food is being rationed in the border city of Nuevo Laredo. Worries are growing about possible outbreaks of infection or water-borne illnesses, the federal health secretariat said in a statement. The safety of drinking water has also become an issue.

In Nuevo Leon state, the small town of Ciudad Anahuac was evacuated because of fears a dam could burst. Residents were escaping on foot north toward Nuevo Laredo.

"They are out in the open. Men, women and children with nothing to eat," a man who had left the town told the Associated Press.

Ominously, Hurricane Alex was the first major storm of a season that is expected to be active from start to finish.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Vehicles caught in floodwaters from the swollen Santa Catarina River in Monterrey during Hurricane Alex. Credit: AFP / Getty Images