Mexican mudslide buries up to 70 in remote town

from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 07 Oct 1999
By Dan Trotta

MEXICO CITY, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Up to 70 people in a Mexican mountain town, including 14 school children, were believed buried under mudslides on Thursday after days of relentless rain that has already killed more than 100 people across the country.

With tens of thousands of Mexicans flooded out of their homes and at least nine of country's 31 states seriously affected by the rain, attention shifted to the town of Pantepec, a remote town deep in the mountains northeast of Mexico City in Puebla state. Witnesses said it was covered by landslides.

At the General Zaragoza primary school, 14 students, one teacher and another adult supervisor were known to be buried under mudslides on Wednesday afternoon. All told, up to 70 people could be trapped beneath the earth, officials said.

"As of last night you could hear the screams," Leticia Arroyo, a teacher at the school, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"They're 10 meters (30 feet) under ground. So far we haven't received any help," she said.

The extremely impoverished and underdeveloped area is a little more than 100 miles (160 km) from Mexico City, but several hours over mountain roads from the nearest city.

Rescue efforts were held up by the remoteness of the town and the driving rain.

"There was a mudslide. There could be 70 people buried," Rocio Vazquez of Puebla state's Civil Protection unit told Reuters. "Among them is a school. They haven't begun rescue efforts because they don't have the equipment."

More rain was forecast to fall across much of southern and central Mexico on Thursday and Friday.

A tropical depression over the Gulf of Mexico dissipated late on Wednesday, but remnants of the storm would continue to douse the already soaked states of Veracruz, Tabasco, Hidalgo, Mexico, Puebla and Tlaxcala, forecasters said.

"It won't be as intense but it will continue," a meteorologist at the National Weather Service said.

All across the central and southern parts of Mexico and the Gulf Coast, rivers and dams overflowed, streets turned into muddy rivers, major highways crumbled and stranded residents took to canoes to navigate their hometowns.

Federal officials could not provide a death toll, but television network Televisa said 82 people died in the state of Puebla, where flood waters raged through mountain villages and rainfall in some areas topped 15 inches (375 mm) per day.

Puebla state officials said they had confirmation of 42 deaths statewide but that authorities were investigating reports of dozens more missing. Some 14,000 people had been forced into shelters.

"We have reports of 42 dead but there could be more," Puebla Gov. Melquiades Morales told Televisa on Thursday.

"Women and children came in from a town called Tulipan, all of them wet, numb with cold, hungry, and worried about people left behind in their town because they said that there were some people buried," Morales said.

Televisa said another 33 died in the state of Veracruz along the Gulf of Mexico, four in the Gulf state of Tabasco, six in the southern state of Chiapas and 10 in the central state of Hidalgo.

In Hidalgo, the city of Tulancingo's entire downtown was submerged and up to 20,000 of its 70,000 residents faced evacuation.

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