OAXACA, Mexico (AFP) – A landslide has left 11 people missing in the southeastern Mexican state of Oaxaca, officials said, the latest toll from an intense hurricane season that has brought heavy rains and floods.
President Felipe Calderon and the governor of Oaxaca earlier said seven people were killed in the landslide in Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, but officials late Tuesday said the reports of confirmed deaths were premature.
“Happily, the casualty toll has changed, so much so that we can’t even confirm any deaths” from the landslide, Interior Minister Jose Francisco Blake said after arriving in Oaxaca city.
“Provisionally, we have 11 missing, including eight children and three adults,” he added.
The collapse of a hillside in Santa Maria Tlahitoltepec, a small indigenous community in a remote mountainous area in the center of the state, raised fears of a major disaster.
Oaxaca Governor Ulises Ruiz initially told Mexican television that the landslide had buried between 100 and 300 homes and that thousands of people were affected. The region has already been hit by deadly flooding in the wake of Tropical Storm Matthew.
But local reporters visiting the site said on television that only two homes appeared to have been destroyed and 30 had been damaged by the mudslide.
Police and rescue workers had to hike up to the village on foot because roads were blocked by landslides and the weather was too stormy to reach it by air, Blake said.
Located at 2,400 meters (7,875 feet) above sea level, Santa Maria Tlahuiltoltepec is home to about 10,000 people.
Town secretary Donato Vargas said “residents of nearby villages came to help dig, many of them with their hands, trying to reach the buried houses.”
Weeks of rainstorms, which officials say are the heaviest on record, have wreaked havoc in a wide area of southern Mexico.
They have flooded cities, towns and valleys, destroyed thousands of homes, damaged historic sites and inundated broad stretches of farmland.
Since May, at least 80 people have been killed in floods and mudslides in Mexico, including in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, where Hurricane Karl left at least 14 people dead and an estimated 400,000 people homeless.
Mexico’s president overflew flooded areas of the south Tuesday, but the rain was so heavy that he had to call off a scheduled landing in Tabasco state capital Villahermosa.
As Mexicans sought to dry out from Karl, they were pounded last week by Tropical Storm Matthew, which quickly weakened and stalled over southern parts of the country, where it unleashed torrential rains.
The US National Hurricane Center, which warned of a heavier-than-usual Atlantic storm season in 2010, said at the time that the system was expected to produce total rain accumulations of 25-50 centimeters (10 to 20 inches).
Suffering along with Mexico has been much of Central America, where flooding and landslides in recent months have killed more than 300 people, left tens of thousands homeless and caused billions of dollars in damage.
This year the region is being swamped by side effects of the La Nina weather phenomenon (the opposite of El Nino).
La Nina years are characterized by warmer than normal water temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean.
That causes some abnormal weather and encourages more tropical storms than usual in the Atlantic.