Rescuers hunt for survivors after landslides kill 41 in central Mexico

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2016, 10:31am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2016, 10:31am

Hundreds of soldiers and rescue workers searched for the missing Monday after the remnants of Tropical Storm Earl triggered landslides in central Mexico that killed at least 41 people.

Trudging through mud that was sometimes up to their knees, emergency teams used sniffer dogs to find more bodies in the rubble and worked to dig damaged homes out of the muck.

Earl smashed into Central America at hurricane strength Wednesday, then hit Mexico as a tropical storm on Thursday before weakening to a tropical depression.

But its remnants still packed a deadly punch.

Hardest hit was the central state of Puebla, where 29 people died, including at least 15 minors, as landslides buried several homes in the state’s northern mountains, the local government said.

In one Puebla village, a rain-soaked hill crumbled and came sweeping down on the town, killing 11 people including eight minors. Some 500 families were evacuated to shelters.

Another 11 died in similar circumstances in the eastern state of Veracruz, its governor said. A taxi driver there also died when his vehicle was swept away in the flood waters.

In the town of Huauchinango, the amount of rain that normally falls in a month came pouring down in just 24 hours, the Puebla government said.

“An avalanche of mud came down on us... Our house was completely swept away,” said Claudio Cruz, a 32-year-old resident of the nearby village of Xaltepec, who had been evacuated to Huauchinango with his wife after losing everything but the clothes on their backs.

“We could hear people calling for help from below, but we couldn’t move,” he said.

Several highways in Puebla were ripped up, two bridges collapsed and power was knocked out in several towns.

Governor Rafael Moreno Valle pledged to rebuild damaged structures and posted on Twitter photos of himself walking in mud and residents helping in clean-up efforts.

He warned late Sunday that the death toll could rise.

“We’re still in a search mode and we already have canine teams... searching for missing people,” he said.

Puebla officials did not say how many people were missing. There were some 600 soldiers and rescue workers out searching.

More than 2,000 homes in Veracruz were damaged and 18 villages were cut off by flooding in the south and center of the state.

Geologists are at the scene examining whether it is safe for evacuated residents to return, officials said.

Now it is the approaching Tropical Storm Javier that is sparking new warnings.

Javier, which could strengthen to hurricane status by Monday afternoon, was expected to bring heavy rains and high winds to southwestern Mexico in the coming days.