By Tomas Bravo
LA PINTADA, Mexico, Sept 20 Rescuers cleared mud
from shattered houses on Friday, searching for dozens of people
missing after a mudslide flattened their village in southwest
Mexico as some of the most destructive storms to hit the country
in decades abated.
Dozens of homes in La Pintada, a village about 60 miles (100
km) from the beach resort of Acapulco, were swallowed up by a
mudslide touched off by heavy rain and flooding at the weekend
that has killed at least 100 people across Mexico and forced
thousands of people to abandon their homes.
The government said close to 300 people living around La
Pintada had been rescued but 68 were still missing late on
Thursday. Around 20 bodies have been recovered from the
shattered village, authorities said.
The flooding across vast stretches of Mexico looked set to
become one of the country's most costly disasters just as the
economy has suffered a sharp slowdown.
Rescue workers were also looking for signs of a helicopter
that vanished on Thursday in the storm-battered state of
Guerrero with at least 10 people aboard.
A Black Hawk helicopter, with two pilots and at least eight
people rescued from villages outside Acapulco on board, lost
contact with authorities on Thursday, Manuel Mondragon, the
government's national security commissioner, told local media.
Acapulco has suffered some of the worst of the flooding that
began when two tropical storms, Ingrid and Manuel, bore down on
Mexico from the Pacific and the Atlantic, cutting a trail of
destruction that has affected more than a million people.
Even as Manuel disintegrated after moving north on Thursday,
heavy rain continued in Guerrero and Michoacan states overnight,
causing river levels to rise and flooding more towns and
villages. Ingrid dissipated earlier this week.
Around 40,000 tourists were stranded in Acapulco, though a
significant portion of them have now been flown out.
President Enrique Pena Nieto said the storms had inflicted
the worst widespread flooding damage in Mexico in recorded
history, and he canceled a planned trip to the United Nations in
New York next week to oversee relief efforts.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, visiting Mexico on Friday,
pledged to support those stricken by the storms.
"We stand ready to help in any way we can," Biden told
reporters. "In a sense, we are a single people."
CONCERNS ABOUT ECONOMY
Streets turned into cascades of mud, homes were ruined and
cars silted up with floodwaters as the government struggled to
reach remote villages left helpless by the storms. In some
areas, crocodiles escaped lagoons to swim flooded streets.
More poor weather was headed for Mexico on Friday, with a
low pressure area entering the Gulf showing a 20 percent chance
of becoming a tropical cyclone over the next two days, the U.S.
National Hurricane Center said.
Still, the potential risks linked to the incoming weather
front had eased overnight, the hurricane center added.
The flooding damage could hamper the Mexican economy's
recovery from a surprise contraction in the second quarter,
though analysts are still unsure how much it will cost.
Eduardo Reinoso, head of Mexican natural disaster risk
assessment company Evaluacion de Riesgos Naturales, told Reuters
the damages to Mexico would likely be comparable with those
caused by Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
Along with two other storms, Wilma shaved 0.49 percent off
Mexico's gross domestic product in 2005, according to a study by
the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
This time could be worse, Reinoso said, noting that the
economic damages from the large number of highways and bridges
washed away by current flooding could surpass the cost of the
hotels damaged around Cancun by Wilma.
More rains could exacerbate the toll, he added.
"All the dams in the country are practically at 100 percent.
This is very serious," Reinoso said.
So far, the floods have been Mexico's deadliest since 1999,
when 387 people were killed in central and Gulf states,
according to the OECD.
The storms have also had a social cost.
More than 50,000 people have had to be evacuated from their
homes, and Acapulco was hit by looting this week as
communication breakdowns put a squeeze on supplies.