Slide victim recovered as Mexico storm toll rises

By Eduardo Verdugo

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Sept. 21 2013 5:57 p.m. MDT

Soldiers remove the body of a woman who was recovered from the site of a landslide in La Pintada, Mexico, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. The village 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. Using picks and shovels, soldiers and farmers removed dirt and rock from atop the cement or corrugated-metal roofs of houses looking for bodies in this town north of Acapulco, where 68 people were reported missing following Monday's slide.

Eduardo Verdugo, Associated Press

LA PINTADA, Mexico — Rescuers fighting tons of slippery, wet mud at the site of this week's worst storm disaster unearthed a woman's body Saturday, possibly one of 68 missing in a massive landslide that buried half of the remote coffee-growing town of La Pintada.

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 last weekend.

"There is little hope now that we can find anyone alive," said President Enrique Pena Nieto after touring the devastation, adding that the landslide covered at least 40 homes.

Pena Nieto told the townspeople that La Pintada would be relocated and rebuilt nearby in a better 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.

Authorities on Saturday also found the wreckage of a Federal Police helicopter that was working on the rescue when it went missing Thursday. All aboard died, though officials still could not confirm late in the day how many were aboard.

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.

"Governments aren't responsible for the occurrence of severe weather, but they are for the prevention of the effects," wrote Mexico's nonprofit Center of Investigation for Development in an online editorial criticizing a federal program to improve infrastructure and relocate communities out of dangerous flood zones. "The National Water Program had good intentions but its execution was at best poor."

Ingrid and Manuel simultaneously pounded both of Mexico's coasts, killing at least 101 people, not including the helicopter crash victims or the 68 missing. Interior Secretary Miguel Osorio Chong told Mexican media that 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.

Guerrero Gov. Angel Aguirre publicly confirmed that corruption and political dealings allowed housing to be built in dangerous areas where permits should have been rejected.

"The responsibility falls on authorities," Osorio Chong said in a press conference earlier in the week. "In some cases (the building) was in irregular zones, but they still gave the authorization."

Both federal and state administrations are new and cited cases in the past, though Osorio Chong said that going forward, he is sure that Aguirre and the mayor of Acapulco will not allow flooded-out victims to return to high-risk areas.

In a meeting with hotel owners in Acapulco, Pena Nieto told the resort city that the reconstruction phase has begun, and that the government will help address the hoteliers' concerns, including improving the main thoroughfare from Mexico City, the Highway of the Sun, which was closed by slides and damage in the storm, cutting off access for days.

The highway reopened Friday, albeit with many detours skirting stretches damaged by flooding and landslides. As of Saturday, all of the stranded tourists had been able to leave Acapulco.

The Mexican government late Friday gave a list of damages from Ingrid and Manuel, which later gained hurricane force and rolled into the northern state of Sinaloa on Thursday morning.

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