Federal authorities chose to flood poor areas of Tabasco in order to prevent water from inundating the state capital Villahermosa, President López Obrador said Sunday.
The president made the remark while inspecting flood damage during a flyover of the Gulf coast state.
“This river is Carrizal, it’s the river that passes through Villahermosa,” López Obrador said while pointing out the window of a military aircraft.
“That sluice was closed and all the water from the [Peñitas] dam continued via the Samaria [River] to the low areas, [to the municipalities of] Jalpa, Nacajuca, Centla. That’s where we have the problem,” he said.
“We had to chose between problems; not to flood Villahermosa and [let] the water go out via the Samaria [instead], via the low areas. Of course the people of Nacajuca, the [Maya] Chontal areas, the poorest areas, were damaged but we had to take a decision. … A major flood was avoided where the majority of the people of Tabasco live.”
Parts of Villahermosa did flood after the Grijalva River burst its banks but authorities managed to stop floodwaters entering the city’s center. López Obrador said that even though it rained more than in 2007 – when 80% of Tabasco’s territory was flooded – Villahermosa didn’t face severe flooding.
The president also said the situation in Tabasco has improved since last week when some parts of the state saw their worst floods in 50 years. However, many roads and a lot of farmland remain under water.
Governor Adán Augusto López Hernández has blamed much of the flooding on the excessive release of water from the Peñitas dam, which was inundated with rain brought by two cold fronts and Tropical Storm Eta.
More than 300,000 people in Tabasco have been affected by flooding, National Civil Protection chief Laura Velázquez Alzúa said on Saturday. A total of 899 communities across the state were flooded, she said.
Almost 55,000 people in Chiapas and just under 11,000 in Veracruz were also affected by flooding, Velázquez said.
At least eight people drowned in Tabasco and more than 20 people lost their lives in Chiapas, including several people who died in landslides.
Velázquez said that rivers that run through Tabasco have subsided with the exception of the Usumacinta. Some communities in the municipality of Jonuta remained at risk of being flooded on Monday morning.
Meanwhile, the director of the National Water Commission said that there was no guarantee that the Grijalva River won’t overflow again.
“I cannot say that it won’t overflow nor am I going to say that [Tabasco] won’t flood again. Due to the conditions in which you [Tabasco residents] live, it’s better to be prepared. … You have to learn to live with what’s [around you] and be very aware of the situation,” Blanca Jiménez said.
Recent federal governments have spent billions of pesos on flood prevention projects in Tabaso but none has succeeded in preventing inundations of the state’s cities and towns. However, not all of the money pledged for flood prevention has been invested.
The newspaper Milenio reported last week that just 2.8 billion pesos of almost 20 billion pledged by former president Enrique Peña Nieto was spent on projects in Tabasco.
López Obrador announced last week that his government would implement a new plan to stop recurrent flooding in Tabasco and Chiapas, which could soon receive more heavy rain as Hurricante Iota – expected to make landfall near the Nicaragua-Honduras border on Monday night – approaches.