Following weeks of relentless rain, a hillside collapsed on hundreds of sleeping residents in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca early on Tuesday morning, adding to the deadly toll.
A few hours after the deadly mudslide, state governor Ulises Ruiz gave interviews estimating the number of dead between 500 and 1,000, by which time the authorities had already launched a frantic attempt to get to the town.
Soldiers, civil protection and Red Cross workers’ progress up the unpaved mountain road were hindered by smaller landslides and a collapsed bridge, taking them nearly 10 hours.
The bad weather prevented helicopters from being used, with heavy cloud cover prohibiting them from getting a clear view of the circumstances on the ground, let alone landing.
After their transportation was unable to continue, rescue workers and soldiers walked for several hours and eventually reached the town where they discovered substantial damage in one relatively small part of the town of only 9,000 inhabitants.
Two houses were completely buried, two partly interred, and 30 more in sever danger because they lay in the path of the unstable mud flow.
Authorities in the town of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec said seven people were killed and at least 100 missing, but the leader of their state, Ulises Ruiz, reported four confirmed dead and 12 missing.
President Felipe Calderon reported on his Twitter account that an Army commander and 30 soldiers had reached the town by foot and that there was a lot of damage, but ‘perhaps not of the magnitude initially reported.’
President Calderon told reporters: ‘We are very saddened by this tragedy, very sad but very determined to do everything in God’s power to save the victims who are alive in this landslide and to help the people of Santa Maria.’
As the search continues, it was reported yesterday that no bodies had been uncovered, however 11 people were still unaccounted for. As hopes of finding those missing dwindled, locals urged the continuation of efforts to recover their bodies.
In recent months, Mexico has suffered one of the most intense rainy seasons on record with large areas still under water in lowland regions of Oaxaca along with other southern states.