Rescuers Rush To Aid Landslide Victims In Mexico

A deadly mudslide in Oaxaca covered hundreds of houses as people were sleeping. Rescue workers say that so far, four bodies have been recovered and 12 other people are missing.

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In Mexico, in the southern state of Oaxaca, rescue workers are desperately trying to get to victims of a massive landslide. Early this morning, a hillside collapsed in a remote, indigenous village. Initial reports said hundreds of people may have been trapped. So far, rescue workers say they have recovered seven bodies.

From Mexico City, NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Not only was the village of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec hit by a landslide, but the main road into the town is also blocked by mud. Tlahuitoltepec is in the remote, mountainous Sierra Juarez region of Oaxaca. Communication with the village has been sporadic and mainly over satellite phones.

The Governor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz, speaking by phone with the Mexican television network Televisa, said the landslide occurred in the early hours of the morning while most of the villagers were asleep. Governor Ruiz said a 200-meter-wide section of a hill above Tlahuitoltepec crashed into the town.

Governor ULISES RUIZ (Oaxaca, Mexico): (Speaking foreign language).

BEAUBIEN: Between 100 and 300 houses were destroyed. We don't have an exact number, said the governor. He said the death toll could be as high as 1,000.

This rugged part of Oaxaca was hit hard by rains from Tropical Storm Matthew over the weekend. Ruiz says heavy rains continue to fall in the area and are hampering relief efforts.

Gov. RUIZ: (Speaking foreign language).

BEAUBIEN: The governor says officials in the state are gathering heavy equipment and sending it to the area. The rescuers' first job is to reopen the road to the village. A bridge on the road has collapsed, and mudslides have blocked the route in several other sections.

Mexican relief officials had been coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Karl that pounded the neighboring state of Veracruz two weeks ago. The Red Cross was redirecting crews from the Gulf Coast to Oaxaca and trying to send them in by helicopter. The Mexican military says it's sending canine search and rescue teams.

It's unclear how many people may be trapped alive in the landslide, but the governor says he hopes the rescue crews are able to get to the village in time.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.

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