- The Washington Times - Monday, December 19, 2005

NARANJAL, Mexico — Donato Tun’s modest hut in the jungle of the Yucatan Peninsula has never been anything close to posh, but with its cement floor, large open doors, swinging hammocks and roof thatched from palm fronds, it has a certain charm.

Hurricane Wilma, however, sent floodwaters rising into Mr. Tun’s home, drowned 10 of his most prized possessions, his pigs, damaged his small grove of citrus trees and made the poor Mayan farmer’s hard life even more difficult.

“My trees will die now because the roots have been covered by water for weeks,” said Mr. Tun, 66. “I lost my pigs, too, and now there’s no work. This hurricane has left us in a very bad situation.”

Packing 145-mph winds, Wilma left a trail of woe and destruction across much of the low-lying Mexican state of Quintana Roo.

Government officials rushed aid, workers and other assistance to Cancun and a string of glitzy coastal resorts along the Caribbean, promising to bring the vital tourism industry back to its feet as quickly as possible.

Although an army of workers has been busy rebuilding the high-rise hotels and fancy shops along the coast, the pace of recovery in isolated, inland towns like Naranjal has been much slower.

Floodwaters from a stream swamped the narrow, pitted road into the village next to a limestone ridge about 50 miles southwest of Cancun. Large trucks can ford the stream, but the beat-up vehicles owned by the residents cannot pass.

“We survive here by farming and making charcoal,” said Claudio Cupul, 54, one of Mr. Tun’s neighbors. “But with the water so high we can’t get out to sell our charcoal. My crops were all ruined, too. Nobody here has any work or any way to make money to buy food.”

Help has reached the village by government trucks that deliver food and bottled water. Some of the villagers also have received materials to rebuild their roofs, and electricity has been restored to most houses.

But floodwaters have contaminated a central communal well, and Mr. Cupul said some people have complained of skin rashes from the dirty water.

Some of the 125 or so villagers have begun building new, rudimentary huts on the limestone ridge, but Mr. Cupul said none received any government assistance to help with the cost.

“I want to be able to build a new house out of modern materials, with a good roof and cement walls, but I can’t afford it,” he said. “My house didn’t flood too bad and the water has gone down, but I’d rather live in a safer place.”

As the old men speak, a truck that has just unloaded food and water at a central building in the town chugs away, fording the floodwaters, its tires creating small wakes that rush toward nearby houses, sending squawking chickens running for higher ground.

Two schoolgirls giggle as they carefully cross a makeshift footbridge of concrete blocks and weathered, narrow planks that villagers erected to allow passage across the swollen stream.

Although few here seem to have much hope that things will improve dramatically any time soon, most seem determined to scrape by as they always have, scratching a living from the rocky jungle soil, much as their Mayan ancestors have done for thousands of years.

“We feel we’ve been abandoned,” Mr. Cupul said.

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