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Hurricane drowns Mexico's economy

Destruction could be costliest in country's history.

Hurricane Alex Mexico
Destruction from flooding caused by Hurricane Alex in Monterrey, Mexico on July 2, 2010. (Dario Leon/AFP/Getty Images)

MEXICO CITY — Brimming corn fields ready to harvest were ripped to shreds. Water pipes supplying entire villages were shattered. Key roads and bridges were shattered to pieces.

As the waters unleashed across northern Mexico by Hurricane Alex and Tropical Storm Bonnie finally receded this week, officials have begun to measure the scale of the damage. The destruction, they concluded, would set the local economy back by years.

“This has devastated the economy in one of the most important regions of Mexico,” said Gov. Rodrigo Medina of Nuevo Leon state. “We cannot afford to leave this destroyed. We have to start rebuilding now.”

Juan Francisco Molinar, the federal transportation minister, said a calculation of the total damages would be released Tuesday.

Officials fear it could rival Mexico’s 1985 earthquake as the most costly disaster in the nation’s history.

When Hurricane Alex first hit the coast on June 30 as a category-2 hurricane, the winds caused little problem. But the storm unleashed torrential rain throughout the first half of July that was made worse by the arrival of Tropical Storm Bonnie.

News footage emerged of towns and cities under water and streets turned to rivers, sweeping away cars and trucks. Mexican authorities said at least 15 people were killed in the flooding.

In Nuevo Leon’s industrial hub of Monterrey, most of the city was submerged. Hundreds of thousands were still left without water or electricity and key roads lay shattered days after the water subsided.

Gov. Medina on Friday asked the federal government for $1 billion to reconstruct Nuevo Leon, a key industrial state that borders Texas. Across the neighboring states of Coahuila and Tamaulipas, dozens of roads were severed and villages cut off, paralyzing much of northeastern Mexico.

The devastation heaped problems on the U.S.-Mexico border ports, stopping thousands of trucks from reaching the crossing. Cargo railroads connecting Mexico and the United States were also smashed to pieces.

Nuevo Laredo is normally the busiest port on the entire border with 8,000 trucks crossing its bridges daily. But damage pushed traffic to a crawl.

“A lot of merchandise, including fruit and vegetables, from both sides of the border, is being stuck in trucks and is going bad,” said Ricardo Zaragoza, secretary of the Nuevo Laredo Association of Border Agents.”

The economic effects also spread to the United States.

General Motors Company on Wednesday temporarily closed its Arlington, Texas assembly plant because the flood damage prevented parts from from being delivered.