At least seven people were killed and 100 were missing and feared dead after a rain-soaked Mexican hillside collapsed before dawn on Tuesday, burying homes and entombing residents while they slept, authorities said.
Oaxaca Governor Ulises Ruiz initially told Mexican television that the landslide buried between 100 and 300 homes and that “up to 1000” people were feared dead.
Ruiz later told Mexican radio that authorities in the town of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec listed seven dead and 100 missing, although the report was preliminary and there were fears that the toll could rise.
A swath of hillside about 200 metres wide gave way above a group of homes in a remote mountain town in the southern state of Oaxaca, where incessant rain in the wake of Tropical Storm Matthew has caused deadly floods.
The rush of mud hit around 3am (1800 AEST) in the town of some 10,000 people at an elevation of 2400 metres.
It was not immediately clear if the toll had been revised because survivors had been pulled from the mud and debris, missing residents had been found, or the number of estimated homes buried had changed.
Prior to release of the preliminary toll, town secretary Donato Vargas said the neighborhood of El Calvario was plunged into confusion and dread as residents looked for at least 400 people missing after the landslide.
“We fear that the missing are buried inside their homes because they have searched the nearby places,” Vargas said.
Several hours after the tragedy, emergency rescue teams, military units and earth moving equipment had yet to reach the scene in the mountains some 130km northeast of the state capital Oaxaca.
The state is part of a wide area of Mexico devastated this year by what officials describe as the heaviest rains on record.
“We have not been able to get there yet,” Ruiz said.
“We are moving Mexican Army personnel, rescue workers and health personnel” to the scene.
Separate landslides have blocked roads in the region, delaying emergency responders, and rain and heavy fog have prevented helicopters from reaching the area, according to authorities in Oaxaca.
If fears of hundreds of deaths are realised, the landslide would be the worst single weather-related disaster this year to befall a nation suffering from a relentless string of hurricanes and tropical weather systems that have slammed it in the past several weeks.
The rains have flooded cities, towns and valleys, destroyed thousands of homes, damaged historic sites and inundated broad stretches of farmland.
Mudslides have killed residents in several states, including Oaxaca, Chiapas, Puebla, and coastal Veracruz, where Hurricane Karl left at least 14 people dead and an estimated 400,000 people homeless.
As Mexicans sought to dry out from Karl, they were pounded last week by Tropical Storm Matthew, which quickly weakened, but its remnants stalled over the southern parts of the country, unleashing torrential rains.
The US National Hurricane Center, which has warned of a heavier-than-usual storm season in 2010, said at the time that the system was expected to produce total rain accumulations of 25-50cm, with isolated maximum amounts of 76cm possible.
Suffering along with Mexico has been much of Central America, where flooding and landslides in recent months have killed more than 300 people, left tens of thousands homeless and caused billions of dollars in damage.
At least 65 people died in mudslides in Guatemala this month, while a mudslide in Colombia — also drenched by regional storms — on Monday night killed between 20 and 30 people.