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Mudslide buries Mexico village amid hurricane

19 September 2013, 12:28

Acapulco - A resurgent hurricane lashed Mexico's northwest coast on Wednesday after twin storms killed at least 80 people nationwide and buried a village under a mudslide, leaving dozens more missing.

Hurricane Manuel was "hugging" the coast of Sinaloa with winds of 120km/h, threatening to spark flash floods and landslides, the US National Hurricane Centre said.

Earlier this week, Manuel pummelled the south-western Pacific coast as a tropical storm while Ingrid barrelled across the east in a dual onslaught unseen since 1958.

The storms damaged bridges, caused rivers to overflow and flooded half of the Pacific resort of Acapulco, stranding tens of thousands of tourists who sought airlifts while looters ransacked stores.

Authorities said the death toll had risen to 80 across 12 of 32 states, but the body count could rise after the grim discovery of a huge mudslide in the mountains of south-western Guerrero state.

President Enrique Pena Nieto said 58 people were missing after a "major landslide" collapsed on La Pintada, a remote village of 400 people west of Acapulco.

"We are not sure for the moment how many people are trapped under the mud," Pena Nieto said.

Ediberto Tabarez, the mayor of Atoyac de Alvarez, a municipality that oversees La Pintada, told AFP in a phone interview that at least 15 bodies have been found.

Tabarez said the situation was "very critical" after more than 20 homes were crushed.

Survivors who were evacuated to Acapulco told AFP that villagers were having lunch during Independence Day celebrations on Monday when a thundering noise came from the hill.

Then the earth came crashing down on homes, the church and schools as people ran for their lives, said the survivors who were taken to convention centre serving as a shelter for storm victims.

Ana Clara Catalan, aged 17, was preparing corn tortillas when she heard a "loud noise".

"We ran out. It was an ugly noise, worse than a bomb," she said. "The school, the kindergarten and the church were lost."

News of the disaster only emerged after a survivor was able to radio someone in a neighbouring village.

"More than half of La Pintada was demolished, few homes were left," said Maria del Carmen Catalan, a 27-year-old mother of three.


Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said 334 people - mostly women, children and senior citizens - were evacuated by police helicopters while 45 men would spend the night there before being rescued on Thursday.

Osorio Chong held up a picture showing the mountain of earth and rock smack in the middle of the village.

He said the search for bodies will only begin on Thursday because the area remains dangerous, with water gushing from where the earth fell, threatening to trigger another landslide.

The storms have affected some 220 000 people across the country, damaging 35 000 homes, officials said.

With Acapulco isolated, authorities were scrambling to clear rocks and mud from the two highways to Mexico City and hoped to open a way out on Friday.

The disaster sparked panic buying at supermarkets while thousands of residents looted flooded stores, wading through water with televisions, food and even fridges.

"Unfortunately, there is desperation, but more army and navy troops have arrived," Mayor Luis Walton told MVS radio. "We ask people to remain calm."

Thousands of desperate and exhausted tourists stood in massive lines to board military aircraft at an air force base, shouting as some cut the line.

Their anger rose as a separate, shorter line formed for wealthier visitors who booked flights on private jets.

"I ask the government that, since we all pay taxes, we all be treated the same way because the rich and the poor are equal in this tragedy," said Leonor Carretto, aged 45, whose five-year-old daughter was running a fever after waiting for hours in line.

The civilian airport's terminal was flooded in knee-high dark water, but commercial carriers Aeromexico and Interjet have flown special flights since Tuesday despite the lack of functioning radar.

More than 5 000 people have been flown out since Tuesday and officials hope to have evacuated 15 000 by Thursday.



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