LA PINTADA, Mexico (AFP) – Using shovels and pickaxes, hundreds of rescuers dug on Friday a mountain of mud that buried a Mexican village, making little progress in finding scores of missing people.
Soldiers, marines and civil protection workers toiled through the night in La Pintada, a coffee-growing village in the mountains west of the Pacific resort of Acapulco.
The little village has become ground zero of two devastating storms that swept across Mexico this week, flooding cities, breaking bridges and killing some 100 people nationwide.
Amid the tragedy, authorities have launched a search mission for a police helicopter that disappeared Thursday while conducting relief work in the same mountain region.
Almost 70 people vanished following Monday's mudslide in La Pintada, but the rescuers have only pulled two bodies from the mess of mud and broken homes so far amid constant drizzling rain.
The municipality's mayor has said that the residents had removed 15 bodies before the authorities arrived.
The mudslide occurred Monday, but news of the event only emerged after a survivor radioed another village two days later.
Without tractors or excavators to work with, the rescuers have had to resort to hand-held tools or their bare hands to remove the debris that swallowed have the hamlet of 400 people.
Many soldiers had to hike for seven hours to reach La Pintada on a winding road covered by earth and rocks. Bringing in heavy machinery to dig faster will take time.
The rescuers' arrival was delayed over fears that water gushing from the hill could unleash a new torrent of mud.
The few residents who decided to stay fear that as many as 80 people perished under the muddy tomb.
"I think there's a lot of dead. A lot of my relatives died, they're buried and we can't do anything," said farmer Diego Zeron.
Villagers said they had recovered four bodies the day after the tragedy.
"There was a woman, her younger brother, her three-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old girl," said Nohemias Romero, 25. he decided to stay behind to help with the rescue effort.
A civil protection worker said a woman had left her four children in the village square while she went to get food for them.
"The children died," he said.
The villagers were celebrating independence day when the earth rumbled and came crashing down last Monday.
Children were playing soccer, the faithful prayed for rain to stop at the small church, mothers prepared corn tortillas and a crowd ate soup at a party in the village square.
The mudslide rushed down from the hill and swallowed up half the village, taking houses, the school and the lone church before crashing into a river.
Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong warned that recovering bodies would take time.
"The rescue work has begun, it's very complicated," he said late Thursday. "It won't be easy. It won't be just a few days."