OSTUACAN, Mexico – When a mountain of mud and a wall of water buried a Mexican village in a “mini-tsunami,” only 14 of the 600 people there disappeared.
One reason? Jittery cattle.
The villagers’ nervous animals somehow sensed the impending disaster and fled to higher ground. Many people got out of bed to chase after them, then watched as their homes were engulfed when a rain-soaked hill collapsed, a senior official said Tuesday.
“The animals felt it and they ran,” federal Interior Secretary Francisco Ramirez Acuna told the Televisa network. “The residents went after them with rifles and shotguns.”
Two deaths were confirmed Tuesday as rescuers dived through a murky river and dug among mountains of earth in search of victims, two days after the landslide crashed down on the tiny hamlet of San Juan Grijalva in Mexico’s southernmost state, Chiapas.
That left between 12 and 14 people still missing. Chiapas Civil Protection official Alfredo Chan said authorities would also search nearby towns to see if victims had sought refuge there.
The landslide in San Juan Grijalva, about 45 miles southwest of Villahermosa, added to woes caused by widespread flooding and heavy rains across Mexico and Central America.
Officials said that about 80 percent of Mexico’s Gulf coast state of Tabasco was underwater at one point and some 500,000 people had their homes damaged or destroyed.
Tens of thousands of people were still huddled in makeshift shelters, on rooftops and in the second floors of homes Tuesday as authorities patrolled flooded streets in boats looking for looters.
Officials said river levels were continuing to drop in the state capital of Villahermosa, but Navy Secretary Mariano Francisco Saynez told Televisa it would take about three months for life to return to normal.
People who lost everything waited in long lines for aid and many took care to avoid strolling in waist-deep waters infested with poisonous snakes and occasionally larger reptiles.
“Some crocodiles have shown up after leaving their lagoons,” Saynez said Tuesday.