Update eases mudslide catastrophe fear

Update eases mudslide catastrophe fear

A huge mudslide first thought to have buried hundreds of people has left only 11 missing with no confirmed dead, authorities said today.

Earlier reports had predicted a catastrophe in Mexico's rain-soaked southern state of Oaxaca.

Interior minister Francisco Blake and Oaxaca governor Ulises Ruiz confirmed the drastically-reduced toll from the slide that hit the town of Santa Maria de Tlahuitoltepec yesterday.

"So far no one is confirmed dead. Eleven are missing," Mr Ruiz said. "We hope that this type of information will continue and they (the missing) will be found."

Initial reports from Santa Maria de Tlahuitoltepec, a rural mountain town 373 miles south east of Mexico City, said a hillside collapsed on hundreds of sleeping residents after several days of heavy rains in the aftermath of a hurricane and tropical storm that hit Mexico and Central America.

Civil protection authorities first reported seven people killed and at least 100 missing, but Mr Ruiz later reported casualties as four dead and 12 missing.

Communications with the town were difficult after the pre-dawn slide. Soldiers and civil protection and Red Cross workers could not reach the area for nearly 10 hours because mud and rocks blocked roads and a bridge was damaged, while bad weather prevented helicopters from being used.

President Felipe Calderon reported on his Twitter account that an army commander and 30 soldiers had reached the town by foot and that there was a lot of damage, but "perhaps not of the magnitude initially reported".

Donato Vargas, an official in Santa Maria de Tlahuitoltepec reached by a satellite telephone, had said as many as 300 homes were believed to have been buried and residents who made it out early in the morning said they had no success digging out neighbours.

"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," Mr Vargas said.

He said the slide dragged houses packed with sleeping families some 1,300 feet down the hillside 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," he said. "We were left without electricity, without telephone and we couldn't help them. There was no way to move the mud."

One person was reported killed in a mudslide in another Oaxaca community, Villa Hidalgo, and 30 people were killed on Monday in a slide in Colombia.

Heavy rains, including some delivered by the remnants of Hurricane Karl and then Tropical Storm Matthew, also have produced deadly floods in southern Mexico and Central America.

Oaxaca Civil Protection operations co-ordinator Luis Marin said the state had seen three days 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.

Mr Vargas said a second hill threatened to give way in another part of town.

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

Huge swathes of riverside communities in southern Mexico were still under water today - flooding made worse by the passage of Karl and Matthew. Before yesterday's landslides, at least 15 deaths in Mexico were blamed on the hurricane.

In Honduras, authorities said four people, including a child, drowned in rivers and creeks swollen by Tropical Storm Matthew.

The National Emergencies Commission said three adults died in the town of El Oregano and a 10-year-old in the Caribbean coast town of La Lima.

In Colombia, about 30 people were killed on Monday by a landslide north west of Bogota, the capital.

Many were changing from one bus to another because a mountain road was blocked, but the residents of five houses also were buried, rescue officials said.

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