A rumbling noise came from the hill before the earth crashed down on the Mexican hamlet of La Pintada, burying people, the school and church after days of rain, survivors told AFP.
The remote mountain village in the southwestern state of Guerrero was the latest casualty of twin major storms that battered Mexico and killed 80 people elsewhere in the country this week.
Survivors who were evacuated to the Pacific resort of Acapulco told AFP that the mudslide occurred on Monday, but news of the disaster in the coffee-growing village only emerged on Wednesday.
Ediberto Tabarez, the mayor of Atoyac de Alvarez, a municipality that oversees La Pintada, told AFP in a phone interview that at least 15 bodies have been pulled out of the rubble after 20 homes were buried.
President Enrique Pena Nieto did not confirm a death toll but said 58 people were missing after the “major landslide” buried part of the village of 400 people.
“We are not sure for the moment how many people are trapped under the mud,” he said.
The earth had already rumbled days before the mudslide, but most residents stayed put, survivors said. Only those living on the banks of the river decided to leave due to heavy rains.
“More than half of La Pintada was demolished, few homes were left,” Maria del Carmen Catalan, a 27-year-old mother of three, said at a convention center that serves as a refuge for storm victims.
Many people were eating in their homes on the second day of independence day celebrations when the massive chunk of land slipped at around 4:00 pm.
“We were eating when it thundered, and when the mountain collapsed the homes were swept away and the thundering noise became louder,” said Erika Guadalupe Garcia, a 25-year-old mother of three.
Ana Clara Catalan, 17, was preparing corn tortillas when she heard a “loud noise.”
“We ran out. It was an ugly noise, worse than a bomb,” she said. “The school, the kindergarten and the church were lost. Everything was taken.”
The mix of earth and rubble came crashing into the river. Those who ran survived. Later, foul smells began to spread across the desolate village, apparently the stench of rotting bodies.
A resident spread the news of the disaster after he was able to communicate by radio with someone from a neighboring village.
Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said 334 people — mostly women, children and senior citizens — were evacuated by police helicopters on Wednesday.
He said 45 men would spend the night there with federal police officers and would be picked up by helicopters Thursday.
The injured were taken to a navy hospital. The minister said earlier that 14 people were hurt.
Osorio Chong held up a picture showing the mountain of earth and rock smack in the middle of the village.
He said the search for bodies will only begin Thursday because the area remains dangerous, with water gushing from where the earth fell, threatening to trigger another landslide.
“The risk for people staying there is high,” he told a news conference.