Mudslide Buries Village as Hurricane Manuel Lashes Mexico

Thursday, 19 Sep 2013 11:25 AM

 

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

Hurricane Manuel was "hugging" the coast of Sinaloa with winds of 75 miles (120 kilometers) per hour, threatening to spark flash floods and landslides, the US National Hurricane Center said.

Earlier this week, Manuel pummeled the southwestern Pacific coast with tropical storm force while Ingrid barreled 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.

At 4 a.m. on Thursday, Hurricane Manuel crept up the Mexico coast at about three miles (five kilometers) per hour, and was about 20 miles (35 kilometers) northwest of the Mexican town of Altata.

Its slow, northward trek was expected to continue for at least 24 hours, dumping as much as 15 inches (38 centimeters) of rain on the northwestern state of Sinaloa.

Authorities said Wednesday 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 southwestern 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 by telephone that at least 15 bodies have been found 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, according to survivors who were taken to a convention center serving as a storm shelter.

Ana Clara Catalan, 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. Everything was taken."

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

The injured were taken to a navy hospital. The minister said earlier that 14 people were hurt.

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 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. While Manuel churned in the west, a new cyclone threatened to form in the east.

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

The disaster sparked panic buying at supermarkets while looters took televisions, food and fridges from flooded stores.

"Unfortunately, there is desperation, but more army and navy troops have arrived," Mayor Luis Walton told MVS radio.

Thousands of 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, 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 and officials hope to have evacuated 15,000 by Thursday.

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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