Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico (AFP) Sept 29, 2010
A new mudslide killed 16 people and left four missing in Chiapas state, near water-logged Mexico's Oaxaca state where 11 others were missing following a landslide, authorities said Wednesday.
The 16 were killed in the village of Reforma in Mexico's southernmost Chiapas state, said a state official, who added that four others were missing in the disaster.
"Sixteen people have died and their bodies have been recovered. There are eight children and eight adults," state public works chief Guillermo Castellanos said.
Civil protection workers and state governor Juan Sabines were on scene as the search for the missing continued, Castellanos addedd.
Another mudslide in Chiapas was reported earlier in the village of Nueva Colombia. A woman and two children were missing there, officials said.
Chiapas, bordering Guatemala to the south, and Oaxaca to the west, is among Mexico's poorest states, and has been among the hardest hit by record rainfalls in recent months.
In the Oaxaca mountain hamlet of Santa Maria Tlahuiltoltepec, a tiny town of 10,000, local health secretary Eduardo Hernandez is among the 11 missing along with his family there.
First reports were that the landslide was feared to have killed many more there, but officials later said the reports of confirmed deaths were premature, with four homes and an ambulance buried beneath the sliding earth.
He "was out warning people, and shouting out that there was imminent danger, and apparently when he went home to sleep the tragedy hit him," said Hernan Lagunas, a state official working on emergency triage in this town in the southern state of Oaxaca.
So far, there has not been one body recovered. That despite the fact state governor Ulises Ruiz shortly after the landslide predicted there would be hundreds to 1,000 dead.
He says he does not regret sounding an alarm that got a national rescue operation lurching into gear, to help this town of indigenous Mixe people.
Military helicopter and hundreds of rescuers were sent in and neighboring countries readied to pitch in.
"At that time of day, with no electricity, and there were no communications, what we did was get the rescue apparatus moving," Ruiz told reporters, explaining his actions.
"Fortunately it (the death toll) was not what was said. But to do anything else at four in the morning, when you are trying to see what is true and what is not..."
At the scene of the landslide, about 100 ethnic Mixe people hunched down with rescue workers, hacking with pickaxes and a bulldozer trying to move tonnes of earth that swept over four homes.
One of his sons survived, but has been unable to speak since the tragedy. "Nobody can get him to talk," said his uncle, Carlos Gomez, 32. "For him this is like a nightmare."
The region has already been hit by deadly flooding in the wake of Tropical Storm Matthew, with weeks of rainstorms, which officials say are the heaviest on record, wreaking havoc in a wide area of southern Mexico.
They have flooded cities, towns and valleys, destroyed thousands of homes, damaged historic sites and inundated broad stretches of farmland.
Since May, at least 96 people have been killed in weather-triggered events tied to an unusually fierce rainy season. More than 810,000 have lost their homes, and the flooding and mudslides have done damage topping four billion dollars, authorities say.
The head of the National Water Council, Jose Luis Luege, blamed the mudslides on deforestation.
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