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At least 7 dead, 100 missing after Mexican landslide

September 28, 2010

OAXACA, Mexico (AP) -- A hillside collapsed on hundreds of sleeping residents Tuesday in a rural Mexican community drenched for days by two major storms, killing at least seven and leaving at least 100 missing, disaster officials said.

The death toll could rise much higher in Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, a town about 130 miles (220 kilometers) southeast of Mexico City. Oaxaca state Civil Protection operations coordinator Luis Marin said 100 people were confirmed missing, but Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz told the Televisa television network 500 to 1,000 people could be buried.

At least 100 homes were buried, and residents who made it out have had no success in digging out their neighbors, said Donato Vargas, an official in Santa Maria de Tlahuitoltepec reached by a satellite telephone.

"We have been using a backhoe but there is a lot of mud. We can't even see the homes, we can't hear shouts, we can't hear anything," he said.

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An eighth person was killed in another mudslide in the state of Oaxaca. Weeks of heavy rains, including those brought by Hurricane Karl and Tropical Storm Matthew, have caused havoc and dozens of other deaths in southern Mexico, Central America and parts of South America.

Vargas said the slide dragged houses packed with sleeping families some 1,300 feet (400 meters) downhill, along with cars, livestock and light poles.

"We were all sleeping and all I heard was a loud noise and when I left the house I saw that the hill had fallen," Vargas said. "We were left without electricity, without telephone and we couldn't help them. There was no way to move the mud."

Vargas said he contacted the governor on the town's satellite phone but that eight hours after the slide no rescue crews had reached the area.

"There is no way to communicate, the roads are shut down. All we have is this satellite phone," Vargas said.

Meanwhile, Vargas said there is another hill about to give way in another area of the community of 9,000 people.

"We are in a serious risk situation," Vargas said. "In all of our neighborhoods there are houses and roads cracked and about to fall."

Rescuers were flying in from Mexico City and emergency personnel have been sent to the town about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Oaxaca, the closest large city.

"There has been lots of rain, rivers have overflowed and we're having a hard time reaching the area because there are landslides on the roads," Ruiz said.

The federal Interior Department issued a statement that rescue workers from the army, navy and federal police were being flown to the area with rescue dogs and heavy machinery. Marin, the Oaxaca emergency official, said rescue crews had yet to reach the area.

President Felipe Calderon offered his condolences in a statement and said Interior Minister Francisco Blake would be in charge of coordinating federal rescue efforts.

Marin said Tuesday another slide, in the community of Villa Hidalgo, killed at least one person.

Huge swaths of riverside communities in southern Mexico were still under water Tuesday -- flooding exacerbated by the passage of Karl and Matthew. Before the landslide, at least 15 deaths in Mexico were blamed on the hurricane.

In Colombia, about 30 people were buried Monday by a landslide northwest of Bogota, the capital. Many were changing from one bus to another because a mountain road was blocked.

In Honduras, authorities said four people, including a child, drowned in rivers and creeks swollen by Tropical Storm Matthew. The National Emergencies Commission said Tuesday that three adults died in the town of El Oregano and a 10-year-old child in the Caribbean coast town of La Lima.

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