Source AP ©

Mini-tsunami engulfs Mexican village

A mountain of mud and a wall of water buried a Mexican village, but, surprisingly, 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."

Rescuers dove through a murky river and dug among mountains of earth in search of victims Tuesday, two days after the landslide crashed down on the tiny hamlet of San Juan Grijalva in Mexico's southernmost state, Chiapas.

Fourteen to 16 people were reported missing Ramirez said. Chiapas Civil Protection official Alfredo Chan told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that authorities would also search nearby towns to see if victims had sought refuge there.

The landslide in San Juan Grijalva added to woes caused by widespread flooding and heavy rains across Mexico and Central America. In Honduras, authorities evacuated dozens of people on the Atlantic coast and at least two people drowned in floodwaters, including a 2-year-old boy swept away by a raging river.

Officials said that about 80 percent of Mexico's Gulf coast state of Tabasco was underwater at one point and some 500,000 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. Small-boat owners ferried residents to their houses to salvage medications and other belongings.

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.

Residents of San Juan Grijalva said they were awakened Sunday night by a loud rumbling as mud and rocks rolled down from surrounding hilltops.

"It was a roar, like a helicopter was passing overhead," recounted farmer Domingo Sanchez, 21. "We didn't know what was happening, and then we went outside, and there were cracks opening the earth. We ran up the hill ... but soil kept coming down on us."

For the next several hours, Sanchez, his mother, his wife and a cousin fought for their lives in a valley where the only salvation lay in getting to higher ground as the ground collapsed around them. They reached the hilltop just in time to look across the valley and see a landslide cover the home of Sanchez's grandparents. He believes at least nine of his relatives were buried.

When the hillside collapsed into the Grijalva River, it also created at least one enormous wave of water that swept over dozens of homes.

David Sanchez, 22, a cousin of Domingo Sanchez who lived in a different part of the village, said a wave carried his mother about 200 meters (yards) downstream before he could rescue her.

After climbing up a hillside to safety, he said, he briefly descended with three friends to try to recover some possessions when a second wave - apparently the release of water briefly dammed up by the landslide - rushed through the valley.

"It swept away everything: trees, houses, everything," David Sanchez said.

Chiapas state Gov. Juan Sabines described one of the waves as a "mini-tsunami."

"This village practically disappeared," he said.

The landslide cut off access to the town, forcing rescue workers to arrive by helicopters, small boats or on foot.

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