Mexico resumes search for 11 missing in collapsed hillside as slide kills 16 in another town

By Mark Stevenson, AP
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mexico: Landslide in another town kills 16 people

TUXTLA GUTIERREZ, Mexico — The unstable hillsides of rain-soaked southern Mexico have claimed at least 16 more victims and authorities are scrambling to deal with the peril after a siege of unusually wet weather.

A landslide Wednesday surged into a community in Chiapas state, killing 16 people and injuring 13, while another avalanche left three people missing in a nearby town, federal officials said.

The deaths came a day after a huge mudslide roared down a hill in the neighboring state of Oaxaca and crashed into a town, touching off a scare that hundreds of people might have been lost. Officials later lowered the likely death toll to 11 there, and searchers recovered the first four bodies Wednesday.

Heavy rains have beleaguered much of Mexico’s south for weeks.

“There are fears of more landslides in Chiapas, Oaxaca and the mountainous zone in this strip of territory in the country’s southeast, since the ground is softened, is saturated,” Laura Gurza, chief of the federal Civil Protection emergency response agency, said Tuesday.

Speaking with the Televisa network, she said 16 people were known dead in the Chiapas municipality of Amatan. She also reported that three people were missing in a similar slide in the town of Angel Albino Corzo near Amatan.

Gurza said soldiers and other government workers were still searching both sites.

In Oaxaca state, searchers recovered the bodies of two teenage sisters as they hunted for the 11 people listed as missing after a hillside collapsed on the town of Santa Maria de Tlahuitoltepec.

The government delivered blankets and other supplies to survivors and other who fled their unstable homes for fear of more mudslides. Many sheltered under makeshift tents on the hills.

Police officers, soldiers, firefighters and townspeople used picks, shovels and a bulldozer to look for bodies in the river of mud and stones that swept down the hillside early Tuesday.

The military said workers found the bodies of the pregnant wife of the town’s chief health official as well as their two teenage daughters and 4-year-old child. The official and six others remain missing, the military said.

The area was battered by the remnants of a hurricane one week and a tropical storm the next.

The U.S. government offered to pay for a team of Mexican rescuers to travel to the site.

Oaxaca state’s Civil Protection operations coordinator, Luis Marin, said the state had seen three days straight of intense rain. The state government warned residents south of the city of Oaxaca of flooding from overflowing rivers and opened shelters in other parts of the state.

Santa Maria de Tlahuitoltepec, which had 9,000 residents in 2005 according to Mexican census data, is a community high in the Sierra Norte mountains known for maintaining its indigenous culture, especially its music. Residents speak the native language, Mixe, and its youth orchestra plays throughout Mexico.

Associated Press writers Mark Stevenson, Ixtli Martinez and Jose Maria Alvarez contributed to this report.

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