VILLAHERMOSA, Mexico (Reuters) - A huge wall of mud and water engulfed a remote village in flood-ravaged southern Mexico on Monday and the government said at least 16 people were missing.
Mexican media reported as many as 30 people could be missing in the landslide in southern Chiapas state that buried 100 houses in the village of San Juan Grijalva.
TV images showed a swathe of jungle swamped by water and mud, and bare earth where houses once stood in the community of 500 people.
“A mountain fell into the river, blocking the River Grijalva ... and created a wave ... that has flattened the town,” Chiapas Gov. Juan Sabines told Mexican radio.
No bodies have been recovered from the site, Sabines said. “We’ve found people who were able to flee the enormous wave by running into the hills,” he added.
Rescue workers helicoptered to the scene to evacuate survivors and President Felipe Calderon canceled his trip to a three-day Ibero-American summit starting in the Chilean capital Santiago on Thursday.
Civil protection authorities in Chiapas, a mostly indigenous state where floods killed four people last week, said they were still trying to confirm casualties.
“We have about 70 people from the village in shelters and about 14 to 16 people missing but the area is so remote and communication links are down so our search is slow,” said rescue worker Alejandro Cabrera.
San Juan Grijalva is close to Tabasco state, which is mostly under water after last week’s rain caused rivers to burst their banks and left some 800,000 people homeless.
In Tabasco’s devastated capital, Villahermosa, people resorted to drinking from a muddy river and cisterns in their homes as water and food became scarce.
“For lack of water, they’re taking it out of cisterns and the river,” said resident Janette Aguilera, 32.
Tabasco state Gov. Andres Granier said it would be months before all Villahermosa’s evacuated residents could return.
“We’re calculating the problem as one of three months ... before 100 percent of the people can go home,” he said.
The land around the city, where bananas, beans and corn are grown, was devastated. “The countryside is totally lost,” Granier said.
Thousands of people have been plucked from rooftops by helicopter or rescued by boat. Large parts of Tabasco resembled a huge lake with just the tops of roofs poking through.
Only one death has been reported in Tabasco, although in neighboring Chiapas, local officials reported four fatalities on Sunday after rain-swollen rivers burst their banks, damaging thousands of homes and 16 bridges.
Aid was slowly getting through. Volunteer workers piled plastic bags full of beans, cooking oil and rice onto a launch with an outboard motor that headed off down a flooded street.
Mexican states sent aid ranging from helicopters and portable water treatment plants to bottles of water and thousands of people across Mexico donated money to the cause.
“I thank the world’s solidarity, Latin America, Europe, in helping us at this time,” Calderon said in a speech earlier.
Cuba will send a plane with 50 doctors to treat Tabasco residents, Granier said. The United States is donating $300,000 to the affected area and U.S. President George W. Bush called Calderon to express sympathy and offer U.S. help.
Looting continued and 53 people were arrested in Tabasco, a state official said. “I went to see my house and I found two people robbing it,” said housewife Susana Clemente Torres.
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