LA PINTADA, Mexico—Fourteen hours per body.
That’s how long rescue crews with shovels, hydraulic equipment, anything they can muster, are averaging to find the victims of a massive landslide that took half the remote coffee-growing village of La Pintada, leaving 68 people missing.
The Mexican army’s emergency response and rescue team slogged in pouring rain and several feet of mud with five rescue dogs on Saturday, recovering two women who were buried in the same area near a kindergarten, the second body under more than four feet of dirt. At least two children are believed to be nearby.
Lt. Carlos Alberto Mendoza, commander of the 16-soldier team, said it’s the most daunting situation he’s seen in 24 years with the Mexican army.
“They are doing unbelievable work, hours and hours for just one body,” he told The Associated Press. “No matter how hard the day is, they never get tired of working.”
La Pintada was the scene of the single greatest tragedy in destruction wreaked by the twin storms, Manuel and Ingrid, which simultaneously pounded both of Mexico’s coasts a week ago, spawning huge floods and landslides across a third of the country. The death toll stands at 101, not counting five federal police who died on a rescue mission Thursday when their Blackhawk helicopter crashed as they were leaving La Pintada. The wreckage wasn’t found until Saturday. The toll also excludes the 68 missing.
Interior Secretary Miguel Osorio Chong told Mexican media the death toll could go as high as 200 in the coming days, nearing that of Hurricane Paulina, which hit the same Guerrero State in 1997 and caused one of Mexico’s worst storm disasters.
Houses were filled to their roofs with dirt and vehicles were tossed on their sides when the hillside collapsed Monday afternoon after several days of rain brought by Tropical Storm Manuel, which along with Hurricane Ingrid gave Mexico a one-two punch.
“As of today, there is little hope now that we will find anyone alive,” President Enrique Peña Nieto said after touring the devastation, adding that the landslide covered at least 40 homes.
Survivors staying at a shelter in Acapulco recounted how a tidal wave of dirt, rocks, and trees exploded through the center of town, burying families in their homes and sweeping wooden houses into the bed of the swollen river that winds past the village on its way to the Pacific.
The scene by Saturday was desolate, a ghost town. One man remained to care for abandoned goats, pigs, and chickens that seemed disoriented as they roamed the rescue site.
When the rains get too hard, the crew has to stop for fear of being buried, too, by another slide, Mendoza said.
By Saturday the team had been on site for 48 hours, he added. They had been ready to go two full days earlier, but bad weather conditions delayed their ability to reach the mountainous area northwest of the resort city of Acapulco.
President Peña Nieto told storm survivors that La Pintada would be relocated and rebuilt in a safer location as officials responded to a wave of criticism that negligence and corruption were to blame for the vast devastation caused by two relatively weak storm systems.
“I will come to inaugurate a new La Pintada,” he said. “That’s a promise I’m making today to this community, which has undergone such a misfortune.”
All week in Mexico City, editorials and public commentary said the government had made natural disasters worse because of poor planning, lack of a prevention strategy, and corruption.