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Massive Landslide Buries Homes in Mexico's Oaxaca State

  • Cindy Lavanderos

Men look inside a home that was buried after a landslide in the town of Santa Maria de Tlahuitoltepec, Mexico, 28 Sep 2010

Mexican President Felipe Calderón said the first rescue team of 30 soldiers had arrived on foot Tuesday afternoon at Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, where a massive mudslide buried between 150 and 200 homes in this poor rural town in southern Oaxaca state.

Bad weather, blocked roads and damaged bridges have interfered with rescue efforts to this remote indigenous village where residents are desperately waiting for heavy machinery, rescue dogs, and picks and shovels to assist them in their search for survivors from this deadly landslide.

Earlier in the day, Oaxacan state Governor Ulises Ruiz tried to land at least six times by helicopter but heavy rain and fog prevented him from reaching the area.

Ruiz first told the local media that seven bodies had been found, but he feared the death toll could hit 1,000 in this village of 9,000 inhabitants. People were asleep in their homes when the rain-soaked hillside gave away in the early morning hours.

Late Tuesday, the governor said the army reported four people had been confirmed dead, and 12 confirmed missing.

In his post to his Twitter account, President Calderón said the military rescue unit that had arrived found serious damage, but perhaps not the magnitude as what was originally estimated.

Homes in this town located in the mountainous Mixe region about 80 kilometers northeast of Oaxaca City, are made of adobe and brick with tin roofs. The village is known for its musical tradition and culture.

A local newspaper reported that a mudslide two weeks ago had opened up a big crack along the town's borders, but no evacuations had been ordered.

Mexican officials blamed the mudslide on a series of tropical storms that have drenched the region. They said early Tuesday that rain is predicted to continue for another 48 hours.