68 missing in Mexico landslide 'probably dead', says president

Official warns death toll from two tropical storms could soon reach 200

President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico has told survivors of fierce tropical weather that battered the country last week that the 68 people missing following a mudslide that buried much a town in the south of the country are probably dead

The country has had to contend with several days of heavy rain brought by Tropical Storm Manuel and damage caused by Hurricane Ingrid last weekend.

Rescuers fought tons of slippery, wet mud to unearth the bodies of two women on Saturday, possibly among the 68 people missing in a massive landslide in the remote coffee-growing town of La Pintada in the south-western state of Guerrero.

“As of today, there is little hope now that we will find anyone alive,” said Mr Pena Nieto after touring the devastation, adding that the landslide covered at least 40 homes.

He told storm survivors that La Pintada, a town of 800, 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 the 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.”

In Mexico City public commentators have been using the media to attack the government's response to the natural disasters. Poor planning, a lack of adequate prevention strategy and corruption have all been blamed.

If the 68 deaths are confirmed this will bring total killed from both storms to approximately 170.

Authorities on Saturday also found the wreckage of a police helicopter that was working on the La Pintada rescue when it went missing nearby on Thursday. All five officers aboard died, according to local media. Security spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said he could not confirm the number on board.

Both Ingrid and Manuel simultaneously battered both of Mexico's coastlines, killing at least 101 people, not including the helicopter crash victims or 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 Guerrero state in 1997 and caused one of Mexico's worst storm disasters.