Tuxpan, Veracruz
The Big Flood of 1999

Text and Some of the Photographs by John Todd, Jr.

September 2009
Itīs September now in Veracruz. And, itīs a rainy day. Itīs been almost 10 years now.

Even after 10 years, cloudy rainy days in Mexico still make me nervous, and remind me of the days and weeks I spent in Tuxpan, Veracruz after the Flood of October 6, 1999. Itīs been 10 years since the flood, and I still get a little nervous when it rains.

Photo Credits
I didnīt take most of the flood photos, and want to thank Miguel Ángel Francisco García, Director of Fraber Computación, Sucursal Centro. in Tuxpan who has allowed me to use the photos that he and his people took.

Their people ventured out in the mess when I was at home taking care of my neighbors in an impromptu shelter.

Other photos were taken by Juan Carlos Zamudio, and Gabino Cruz. I havenīt been able to locate them. If anyone knows where they are, please ask them to contact me for permission to use them. I would like to hear from them again.

I took the "After" Photos a year after the flood.

The River at Dawn
A Rainy September
September in Tuxpan is normally a rainy month.

In 1999, there were an unusual number of Tropical Depressions or Tropical Storms that parked themselves offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, just south of Tuxpan, and shoveled their moisture ashore.

A large amount of rain fell in the mountains west of Tuxpan.

By the end of the September most of the dams and lakes in the mountains in the nearby states of Hidlago and San Luis Potosí were at full capacity.

By October the rains hadnīt stopped. The dams, many of which were old, were in danger of fracturing, and producing a real disaster, not to mention the lack of fresh water in the communities served the artificial lakes during the rest of the year.

On the Way to Work
My Own Cross to Bear
Several months before, the city had decided to do some road work and eventually pave the dirt road in front of my house.

The rains turned my street to mud, and the heavy trucks left such deep ruts that almost every day I had to park my car a block away and walk through the mud to get home.

I had to have two pairs of shoes with me all the time.

I would think to myself, each of us has our own cross to bear, and mine was to get through the mud on the way home each day.
The River Began to Rise
Wednesday, October 6, 1999
In spite of all the rain, the river had only risen about a foot.

On October 6, on the way to work, I noticed the water was up to the edge of the boulevard.

I had heard flood warnings that morning on the radio, but figured I was OK because my house was 2 blocks from the river, and the waterline was about 10 feet below the level of the road along the boulevard.

I needed to get to the office to check on things. No use sitting around the house all day.

The River Near the Office
Long Distance Service Out
When I got to the office around 7AM, the water was half way up the construction site from the office. Tuxpan had been without long distance telephone service since Monday, but fortunately there was electricity.

Strangely enough, my own personal local dial-up internet service provider in Tuxpan had somehow managed to keep his operation going. This was our only link to the outside world.

I found out a couple of weeks later they had stayed in their office all night the night before moving equipment around the rising water to keep their service up and running until they finally had to abandon ship, and suspend their service.
The River Near the Office
Power Cut at the Office
I sat down and prepared an email to my boss in Tampico detailing the civil defense warnings.

Just as I was about to send the email, the power went out, cut by the local construction contractor for safety reasons.

Nobody had showed up to work, so I picked up the boxes of documents on the floor, and placed them on chairs.

It would take another 6 or 8 feet of rising water to even get near them, or so I thought.

This time I went home, and got a video camera and drove around the safe areas and took some pictures. It was the only camera I had at the time.

The River at the Aqua Taxi Station
The River is Still Rising
The water close to town was lapping at the boulevard and the current was strong.

By about 11 AM, the water near my house was still about a foot below the boulevard.

My own house, on the second floor of a duplex, two blocks away was still OK. My personal effects would be OK.

Even though it was spitting rain most of the day, there were some people around and about. There was no fear or concern. They just took the rising water in stride.
Municipal Fountain
The Fountain at City Hall
Taking Things in Stride
Some people were moving their furniture from homes a block from the water, others talked to neighbors, but they were in no rush.

I noticed through the afternoon the water continued to slowly rise.

By sundown, the water was across the boulevard near my house, and half way up the block towards me.

It would have to flood a lot of Tuxpan before it got to me.
Municipal Fountain
In Front of City Hall
Evening Falls
I had settled in for the evening. Around 6:30 PM I noticed water beginning to flow through my muddy street. The odd thing it was coming from the side up the street behind me, and not from the river.

Since moving in several months before, I had never gotten to know my neighbors. I would wave hello when I saw them, but I was at the office from sunup to sundown and neither of us paid much attention to each other. I lived behind my walled-in upstairs duplex.

There were two out of town workers from one of the other patios who lived downstairs, and they were friendly. But, basically we were in Tuxpan to work.

Municipal Fountain
A Full House
Around 7 PM my doorbell rang. It was a neighbor lady in the dark with an umbrella against the spitting rain.

She asked if her two children could spend the night at my house. They were afraid of the rising water which was now about 3 inches deep.

In about 30 minutes there were about 35 people from 4 families, and two dogs outside on the porch steps.

The women and children took over the spare bedroom and bath. The men in the living room, and some of the couples took over the kitchen floor.
Municipal Fountain
Agua Taxi Station in the Afternoon
Isolated But Safe
At that point the two guys from downstairs asked if they could come up and spend the night, too. They even brought their mattresses and staked out places on the living room floor.

The rest of the space was occupied with TV sets, stereos, and other valuables.

After everyone got settled in, we sat around the living room getting to know each other, watching TV. Mostly comedy shows and soap operas from Mexico City. There was nothing on the news from Veracruz that night. We were isolated but still had electricity.
Municipal Fountain
In Front of the Palacio Municipal
An Uneventful Night
After the news I retired to my bedroom. I got up once around 3AM to check on things.

One of the guys from downstairs was a awake and said he couldnīt sleep and was keeping an eye on things.

We went outside on the balcony to take a look at the water in the street. It was still spitting rain.

The water was about a foot deep but hadnīt risen any more, so I went back to bed. Tomorrow looked like it would be a long day.
Municipal Fountain
The Palacio Municipal
October 7, 1999
The next day I was up early, and slowly the women started cooking breakfast for the kids first, then everybody else next.

We men stood out on the rather large balcony drinking Nescafe with hot water listening to the AM radio from other towns around Tuxpan.

Most of the radio stations were off the air. What we heard didnīt sound good.

The areas south of us had gotten hit pretty bad. There was much loss of life and farm animals.
Municipal Fountain
Bad News
Tecolutla was hit with a 120 wall of water. Water got up to the roof of the bridge toll house.

Some Indian villages in the mountains around Tezuitlán were washed away. Bridges were out all the way to south of the Costa Esmeralda, and Martinez de la Torre.

North of Tuxpan on the road to Tampico, there were mudslides covering the road.

Now we were isolated, except for the abandoned Tuxpan airport about 3 blocks away. There wasnīt much anybody could do, but wait until the water went down.
Hotel Florida
A Quiet Morning
The children played with little cars and toys they had brought. The women talked in the kitchen as they cleaned up the dishes.

There wasnīt much current from the water in the street, so the men made little trips back to check on their homes during the morning.

A couple of the other neighbors waded the two blocks to the boulevard and came back with a couple of drowned chickens to eat for lunch.

Other neighbors, from further away, came back with some long slices of beef and said a fresh cow had washed up and people were cutting up steaks.
Municipal Fountain
From where we stood on the balcony, they offered us up some of their "bounty", but my neighbors politely refused.

Later, the told me it might be contaminated and that only the very poor people in Mexico would eat meat like that.

"We might be poor, but not that poor", the man added. "We are not looters, Seņor."

Across the river a couple of blocks away is a scrap yard that strips down old ships for scrap metal. They always had an old rusty ship or two waiting for the cutting torch.
Municipal Fountain
Yesterday I noticed the water had risen so much you could see the mast of one of the ships almost bobbing in the current.

Oddly, enough this morning it wasnīt there. Later I found it had washed out to sea. Several weeks later they found it near Coatzacoalcos.

The Water Recedes
By about 10AM we noticed the water was starting to go down. One by one the families politely thanked me for allowing them to stay with me.

Even the children shook my hand, as they went home to clean the mud out of their houses and wash down the walls.
Municipal Fountain
The Sharkīs Not Real
Getting Back to Normal
By Friday, the water was down, and I went back to survey the damage.The water had risen to mid monitor level on the computers, and all the hard drives at the office were lost.

The boxes of documents I thought Iīd saved were sopping wet. Worst of all there was a fine silty muck everywhere.

For a couple of weeks I moved my office to a hotel downtown, and brought my laptop from home for the duration.

The company bought us an inexpensive printer to use and we were back in business.
Don Nino
From the Bridge
Rich and Poor Alike
We were all affected by the flood.Almost every home in the wealthy section of Jardines de Tuxpan was flooded to the second story level, and many people lost everything.

The current carried away all their furniture. Even the refrigerator was gone, and they were left without food. The banks were closed and the ATM machines were out of order. They were left without cash, just like the poor.

One lady told me it was embarrasing to be in a food line with the poor and hear remarks against the wealthy taking handouts that werenīt needed. After a couple of days things began to return to normal.
Don Nino
Don Nino
Back to See Don Nino
The following week things began to settle into a recovery routine. Banks began to open, and I set up a temporary office in the hotel across from the plaza.

The first time I had to take a break, I went across the street for a shoe shine and to talk to Don Nino.

The first thing he said was, "Did you see the paper?"

"No," I replied.

"It doesnīt say it was the governments fault. They released the water from the dams and didnīt warn anyone." So, thatīs what happened.
Municipal Fountain
Telmex: "Comunicándose Se Entiende la Gente"
The following year everybody in town was treated to a federal tax holiday and didnīt have to pay income taxes for September through December. Except for us.

The company said it didnīt count for us since we were a branch office of a company based in Villahermosa and branch offices didnīt count.

The project wasnīt damaged because it was made of steel, but the recovery of our documentation, and eventual close out was slow and arduous.

A couple of the employees lost all their household goods, but everybody eventually recovered.

It all worked out because after the project, I was transferred to San Francisco for a projects that lasted a couple of months.

One Year Later
In September of 2000, I was once again in Tuxpan and went back to take a couple of pictures of "Before" and "After". If you were there you will remember what it was like.

Municipal Fountain
Aqua Taxi Station
Municipal Fountain
Aqua Taxi Station One Year Later
VW Agency
VW Agency After
Tenechaco Bridge
Tenechaco Bridge After
Boulevard After

Back in Tuxpan
I got in after dark, and found a room at the hotel where my office had been during the months after the flood.The next day I got up early and went across the plaza to see if the Mexicano Restaurant was still there.

I guess some things never change.

The El Mexicano Restaurant
The El Mexicano Restaurant
The El Mexicano Restaurant
The Plants are Greener in Tuxpan Now
The landscape along the river looks greener, perhaps due from silt brought down from the mountains.

Water taxis still make their hourly runs to Santiago de la Peņa.

Each of us has gone our separate ways. Yet there is something that holds a spell on me. Perhaps it was the seeds of a bond planted 5 years ago that makes me want to go back to relive the excitement of those days.

I wonder if the survivors of the Titanic ever had that feeling.

I Still Miss It All
Maybe I miss sitting down to a cup of aromatic Mexican coffee and a real breakfast at the El Mexicano Restaurant, or listening to Don Nino talk about local politics and the flood of 1999. I donīt know about you guys, but I miss it all.

The Tuxpan Flood on October 22, 1930
All this time I thought that the flood I had gone through had been the Great Tuxpan Flood, but I was wrong.

I got an email the other day from Jim and Dora Talbot in California. They sent these photos taken during the Tuxpan Flood of 1930.

My wife found your website told me what a wonderful time she had seeing all the pictures from her home town. She remembered having pictures of a flood that happened in October of 1930. After a long search we found them and I thought you might want to take a look at them.

The Tuxpan Flood of October 22, 1930

The Tuxpan Flood of October 22, 1930

The Tuxpan Flood of October 22, 1930

A Well Known Family in Santiago de La Pena.

Family Picture from Santiago de la Peņa

Jim goes on to say:

The older woman is my wife's great grandmother. Her great grandmother was Maria de Jesus Pastrana Moncada and everyone knew her as Dona Chucha. She came from Izhuantla, Veracruz in her teens and was a pioneer in founding Santiago de La Pena during the Mexican Revolution. She was known as a very strong woman with a kind heart.

In the picture, at her side, is her daughter Leonarda Pastrana, my wife's grandmother, with the rest being brothers and cousins. Her brothers were "esquiferos", water taxi rowers who used to row the water taxis by hand. On the far left in the picture is Victor Messano, the only barber in Santiago. One brother is still alive and maintains the family graves in Santiago de La Pena.

Thanks again for taking the time to produce such a wonderful site about Mexico. I am also a gringo and I have always felt very welcomed in Mexico.

Hope you enjoy the pics.

Jim & Dora Talbot

Thanks for sharing these old photos, Jim!

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