And the train did not stop. “His noise” was deafening. The little ones believed they were listening to their passage through the whole city, but what was actually heard that early morning on September 19, 1955 was the impact of the Hilda.
The entry to Tampico of the category 4 cyclone and the subsequent flooding caused the destruction of the city, leaving more than 50 thousand victims and at least 12 thousand dead.
With the water that came down the Guayalejo River from Hurricane Gladys, plus the accumulated from Janeth in the Pánuco basin, the flood grew in an impressive way.
At Customs the water level rose to six meters; dirty, with dead animals, snakes and logs, it passed at a speed of more than 100 kilometers per hour.
Rich and poor were left with nothing. Thousands lost all their belongings.
And the most painful: many people died. Some families saw how the water took the life of their loved ones; others simply did not hear from them again.
In the Plaza de la Libertad, trees with people tied to them could be seen passing between the stream of water and some people threw ties to them with the intention of saving those who clung to life. Only one baby could be rescued.
“Our Huasteca almost disappeared”, narrated in 2018 the then chronicler Marco Flores, now deceased. In an interview for MILENIO Tamaulipas, he said that on Miramar beach there was a mass grave where thousands of unidentified dead were thrown.
“People began to feel helpless, they didn’t even have clothes. Until international aid began to arrive; the lines in the collection centers were one full block “.
Then came the reconstruction of the city, after the great lessons left by the worst tragedy that has ever been experienced in the area.
“Tampico had been badly hit, first by the oil expropriation and later because the port was closed during the Second World War. We had stopped having carnivals, we had a depression and the cyclone arrives, “he said at the time.
The positive thing about the phenomenon is that it finally came to unlock the city’s economy; Tampico was able to get up and remain standing, as there were great changes and transformations. The crises are also to grow.
The historian mentioned that since pre-Hispanic times, it was built in the upper part, but over time the custom of doing it in low areas, despite being flooded, is something that nature never forgives.
“If we had a phenomenon of this nature again, it would be terrible. Now there is a bigger problem: the trash buried in the water table and the one we generate, which would accelerate a flood and could make it larger ”.
It is important, he said then, planning and prevention, because nature can destroy us again.
The worst disaster of the 20th century
Tampico experienced the worst disaster of the 20th century, underlines the researcher Francisco Ramos Alcocer, who for more than 20 years has documented the history of the hurricane that mercilessly struck the south of Tamaulipas and northern Veracruz, a disaster that left 85% of the population affected.
“The Pánuco river dragged many corpses of people and animals of all kinds, all the people who were dying were buried to avoid epidemics,” he explains.
Although it was a unique phenomenon in the region, the passage of time has not been given due attention. “This happens because the cyclones stopped affecting us and there is no culture of citizen prevention.”
The risk is latent, he warns, because the area is surrounded by water, with a Gulf of Mexico and a lagoon system fed by one of the largest rivers in the country, such as the Pánuco.
66 years ago, September 18 was a Sunday. By then it was already known that a cyclone was going to hit, as the newspapers had warned.
“Nothing is going to happen, many said and others had no idea what a hurricane was because they had never been in one; they did not pay attention, they did not prevent themselves, ”says Ramos.
There was no then a Civil Protection system like the one now, so the municipal and state governments were overwhelmed. Manuel Ravizé was the mayor at that time and Gustavo Terán was the governor.
“At night the air begins to feel stronger and stronger. Most of the houses were made of wood with a tin roof, many succumbed to the fury of the hurricane and it was all over for their inhabitants ”.
As the Morelos neighborhood begins to flood, families leave their homes in the middle of the morning. By that time the power had been cut off in order to prevent someone from being electrocuted.
Gusts of wind caused the roofs of the houses to blow off and decapitate some people they found in their path.
“There were many stories of pain, of people who lost everything and there were even those who committed suicide after losing their loved ones in the cyclone. It is documented that specialists came to help the population that was in shock, very bad mentally and emotionally because of everything they had lived through ”.
Ramos Alcocer also refers that many families disintegrated because in addition to the loss of life, there was a forced migration of women and children while men helped to rebuild the city.
Seen in retrospect, the historian comments that “what happened in Tula, happened in Tampico”, for which he calls to prevent another tragedy that could take on greater dimensions due to population growth.
The Hilda tragedy laid the foundations for the National Defense Secretariat to create the Plan to Help the Civilian Population in cases of disaster, called DNIII.
We are not exempt
The president of the College of Civil Engineers in Tamaulipas, Alfredo Trejos de la Peña, was four years old when he had to experience the Hilda event.
He remembers as if it were yesterday, when he was in his home located on the Avenida Ejército Mexicano next to the HillCrest pasteurizer that night, he began to observe the force of the winds.
“Dad, as a civil engineer for the Ministry of Agriculture and Hydraulic Resources, had to go to work later in the brigades and Mom, who was a nurse, came to support many people who needed first aid.”
He and his little sister were left alone and in a Navy cargo plane they were sent to Mexico City with their paternal grandmother, while their parents could take care of them.
Upon their return, 22 days later their father took them to the beach, where he remembers, the smell was unbearable. “We saw the destruction of the corpses on the shore.”
The representative of the civil engineers calls on the three levels of government not to trust themselves and to implement all the actions that are necessary to know how to act in the event of a hurricane, from which we are not exempt.
“The area is very vulnerable, we are surrounded by water, there are sectors with urban developments in floodplains; in Madero there are properties below sea level and the industrial port is built on the marshes ”.
The littoral cordon, he adds, is an infrastructure that must be ready to avoid a major disaster, but it is also necessary for the population to know how and when to evacuate and to be aware of the risks they are running.
A new hope
From September 19 to 30, food and medical aid were brought to the populations affected by Cyclone Hilda. An airlift was carried out with the support of the United States Air Force, which brought three double helix helicopters, establishing their base at the Francisco Javier Mina International Airport.
“On the first day of October 1955, the aircraft carrier CVL48 Spain of the United States Navy, was heading towards the Yucatan peninsula, since it was going to help the population of that area, but it anchored in front of the breakwaters to see the situation of the Huasteca region and sent a reconnaissance plane, with which they realized the great disaster that was coming to Tampico. “