The threat of a new landslide in a Mexican village delayed a mission Thursday to seek 58 missing people while a hurricane hit the northwest coast of the storm-battered country.
As authorities hoped to send rescuers to the southwestern hamlet, the same storm that pummeled the Pacific coast hit the northwest as a category one hurricane.
Hurricane Manuel made landfall west of the city of Culiacan, Sinaloa state, packing winds of 75 miles (120 kilometers) per hour and bringing the threat of flash floods and mudslides, forecasters said.
It was the third time in less than a week that Mexico was pummeled by a major storm.
Manuel had combined with tropical storm Ingrid on the east coast earlier this week to leave a trail of destruction that has killed at least 81 people.
The death toll could rise after the grim discovery of a huge mudslide that crashed into La Pintada, a mountain village of 400 people west of the Pacific resort of Acapulco in Guerrero state.
Ediberto Tabarez, the mayor of Atoyac de Alvarez, a municipality that oversees La Pintada, told AFP that at least 15 bodies have been found after more than 20 homes were crushed.
But the federal government said it had yet to confirm any deaths and that so far survivors testified that they had removed five bodies from the site.
Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said rescue teams were unable to start the search because water was gushing from the hill, threatening to send more rock and mud over the village.
Police helicopters had rescued 334 women, children and senior citizens on Wednesday and were supposed to return on Thursday to pick up 45 men and a few officers who were left behind overnight.
“These 45 people are in a dangerous situation,” Osorio Chong told MVS radio, adding that homes are barely visible. “The rest of the hill could fall.”
There was no mobile phone reception in the remote region.
Survivors of the disaster who were evacuated to Acapulco recalled hearing a rumble before the earth came crashing down on the hamlet of 400 people west of Acapulco.
The rock and earth tore through houses, the church and the school as people were having independence day lunch last Monday. Authorities showed a photo of the mudslide over the middle of the village.
“It was an ugly noise, worse than a bomb,” said Ana Clara Catalan, 17, who was preparing corn tortillas when the earth collapsed.
News of the disaster only emerged after a survivor was able to radio someone in a neighboring village.
“More than half of La Pintada was demolished, few homes were left,” said Maria del Carmen Catalan, a 27-year-old mother of three.
The storms that swept across the nation have damaged bridges, caused rivers to overflow and flooded half of the Pacific resort of Acapulco, stranding 40,000 tourists who sought airlifts while looters ransacked stores.
The civilian airport’s terminal was flooded in knee-high dark water, but commercial carriers Aeromexico and Interjet have flown special flights since Tuesday .
Osorio Chong said almost 12,000 tourists had been flown to Mexico City in special military and commercial flights while authorities hoped to re-open the road out of Acapulco on Friday.
A human rights group accused the authorities of neglecting mountain communities.
The minister said “we do care about the lives of people in the mountains” but “we can’t enter some communities by air or land.”
The storms have affected some 220,000 people across the country, damaging 35,000 homes and forcing the evacuation of 50,000 people, officials said.
While Manuel churned in the west, a new tropical cyclone threatened to form in the east and cause more misery.