VILLAHERMOSA, Mexico – A massive wave of mud and water swept through a Mexican village Monday, and up to 16 people were feared buried, officials said, as rescuers elsewhere worked furiously to deliver aid to victims of massive flooding in southern Mexico.
A landslide blocked an already rain-swollen river and pushed a wall of water and debris over remote San Juan Grijalva, home to about 600 people, most of whom fled into the hills ahead of the advancing wave.
“This village practically disappeared,” said Chiapas Gov. Juan Sabines, who was at the scene where rescue workers were digging for possible victims. Helicopters were seeking out residents who had fled into the hills, in order to evacuate them.
The village, 45 miles southwest of Villahermosa, is near the border of heavily flooded Tabasco state and linked to the same river systems. The landslide was the latest damage caused by a week of devastating flooding and heavy rains that left 80 percent of Tabasco under water, destroying or damaging the homes of about half a million people.
Chiapas officials said between 12 and 16 people were missing and feared buried, while the federal Interior Department placed the number at 16. No bodies have been found.
“A severe landslide on a hill fell into the Grijalva River, causing an abrupt displacement of water that momentarily covered the village,” the department said in a statement.
Meanwhile, at least 20,000 people in nearby Tabasco remained trapped Monday on the rooftops of homes as hungry and dehydrated victims scrambled for government packages of food and medicine.
Gov. Andres Granier ordered central streets in the state capital of Villahermosa closed to all but rescue workers to prevent looting.
Authorities said two more bodies were found Sunday in the brackish waters covering much of the region. If the deaths are confirmed to have been caused by the flooding, the disaster’s death toll would stand at 10.
Mexican government officials worked furiously to distribute aid, and authorities continued trolling the water-filled streets looking for stranded residents.
Villahermosa, the state capital, was still completely under water, though river levels had begun to drop after rising to historic levels.
Desperation grew among residents who could not get their hands on government-supplied food and water or who found themselves cut off from crucial medical supplies. Garbage piled up in the murky waters days after the city suspended most public services including trash collection.