Source AP ©

At least 4 dead, 21 missing after Mexico landslide

Rescue workers searched for 21 missing villagers believed buried by a massive mudslide in southern Chiapas state as grieving relatives buried the first four corpses recovered from the mass of stagnant water and mud.

Chiapas Gov. Juan Sabines said three women and a man died in the wave of mud and water late Sunday, and it was unlikely the 21 missing villagers would be found alive.

"We have to call them missing, but it is hard to hold out much hope of finding them alive," Sabines told a local radio station.

Marlene Sanchez, a 39-year-old survivor, said the wave unleashed by the landslide destroyed about 150 homes, and that seven of her relatives are still missing.

"This disaster has broken our hearts," said Sanchez, who said the bodies must be found "to give them a Christian burial, so that we know where to visit them."

On Wednesday, survivors buried three of the bodies in the graveyard in Ostuacan, the nearest town. Another woman was buried near where her body was found floating in the Grijalva River.

The disaster occurred when a hillside collapsed into a river near the tiny town of San Juan Grijalva, home to about 600 people, blocking the flow of the waterway.

Residents said they were awakened by a loud rumbling as mud and rocks rolled down from surrounding hilltops. When the hillside collapsed into the Grijalva River, it also created at least one enormous wave of water that swept over dozens of homes. Sabines described it as a "mini-tsunami."

Civil Protection officials previously had estimated that from 12 to 14 people were missing but increased the number after interviewing neighbors and family members in the area. San Juan Grijalva is located about 70 kilometers (44 miles) south of Villahermosa, capital of the flooded Gulf coast state of Tabasco.

About 50 rescue workers were searching for missing villagers by land and four more were searching in the Rio Grijalva river.

However, an equally pressing task was to carve a channel through the landslide blocking the river, in order to prevent water building from up behind it and possibly bursting the impromptu dam.

Survivor Miriam Juarez, 24, said there were rumors the government would use explosives to clear the river's channel, a thought that terrifies residents who lived through the landslide.

Officials have said they will use only bulldozers and heavy machinery, but given the size of the blockage, that would represent a gargantuan task.

The landslide added to woes caused by widespread flooding and heavy rains across Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. 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.

Cuban state media reported Wednesday that at least 42,000 Cubans were still unable to return to their waterlogged homes and officials shut one of the country's three nickel mines.

No deaths were reported in Cuba, where rains were subsiding and floodwaters starting to recede, but more than 20,000 homes have been damaged across the island, state-run newspapers said.

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