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Americas

Landslide buries hundreds of homes, many missing

Video by Josh Vardey

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-09-28

Heavy rains brought a drenched hillside down on homes in Mexico’s Oaxaca province while they were sleeping, possibly killing dozens as rescue services struggled to comb through the rubble.

REUTERS - A landslide buried hundreds of homes in a poor, remote area of southwestern Mexico early on Tuesday, possibly killing dozens of people while they slept.

Heavy rains in mountainous Oaxaca state brought a drenched hillside down on homes in Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, a town of about 9,000 people, between 3 and 4 a.m.

Cipriano Gomez, a municipal official, said seven people had died, but rescue workers had not yet been able to recover any bodies as they struggled to use heavy machinery on rain-soaked, unstable terrain.

He said 128 people were missing. "We don't know where they are. There are a number of different landslides."

Oaxaca's governor, Ulises Ruiz, told local radio that up to 300 homes were buried in the landslide, but backed away from earlier statements that there could be 500 to 600 victims.

The landslide is another blow to Mexico as it grapples this season with unusually heavy rains, which have triggered heavy flooding and forced thousands of people from their homes in vulnerable parts of the country.

Civil protection authorities in Oaxaca said the landslide was due to heavy, prolonged rainfall from Tropical Storm Matthew, which dumped rain on Central America and southern
Mexico over the weekend.

The government has sent police, marines and soldiers to the landslide area, about a four-hour drive away from the state capital of Oaxaca.

In a statement, President Felipe Calderon called the landslide a "regrettable tragedy" and promised support for the residents of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, home to farmers who
speak Mixe, an indigenous language.
 

REMOTE AREA, BLOCKED ROADS

It may be difficult for rescue workers to reach the remote region, where smaller landslides have blocked access roads in recent days.

"It just hasn't stopped raining," Ruiz, whose helicopter was turned back by poor weather as he tried to reach Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec earlier in the day, told Foro TV.

"People are very anxious for rescue teams to arrive but it's hard to access the area even by car," said Silvia Mancilla, a spokeswoman for aid group Oxfam Mexico.

Fausto Martinez, a rescue worker with the Oaxaca civil protection force, said civil protection authorities received a call before dawn from a resident by satellite phone.

"They said the mountain had collapsed and a lot of people were in their homes because of the hour," he said.

Oaxaca is one of Mexico's top producers of high-quality coffee, but is only the country's fourth-largest coffee producing state by volume with an annual crop usually around
400,000 60-kg bags.

A top representative of Oaxaca coffee growers said if heavy rains continue through October, up to 20 percent of the harvest could be lost.

Tabata Anton, an official at a technical college based in Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, said by phone from the state capital that teachers trying to get to the area on Monday had
turned around because of roads blocked by earth and rock.

She said that there had been no communication Tuesday with the institute's approximately 60 students from Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec.

Date created : 2010-09-28

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