About 200 people were feared drowned Saturday after a river swollen by torrential rain from Hurricane Gilbert flooded and swept away four buses, police and Red Cross officials said.
Several cars also were swamped by the raging river, and more casualties were expected, officials said.The hurricane, the strongest on rec-ord, was downgraded to a tropical depression Saturday after leaving 100 other people dead across the Caribbean, Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and Texas.
Red Cross spokesman Adelberto Salas said only 13 of the estimated 200 passengers on four buses overturned by the surging Santa Catarina River in Monterrey were saved. Police spokesman Gilberto Sanchez also said about 200 people were feared dead.
By Saturday afternoon, at least 32 bodies had been recovered. Twenty bodies were pulled out of the river in Monterrey and another 12 or 13 downstream in Juarez and Cadereyta, according to coroner's offices in Monterrey and Guadalupe, a township on Monterrey's western edge.
"The current carried more bodies, but we don't how many there are," said Guadalupe Coroner Juventio Guerrero. "A lot of bodies cannot be recovered because they are in the river."
Four policemen were swept to their deaths trying to rescue the passengers, said Comandante Antulio Alejo, commander of the Cobra police unit. Earlier, Sanchez said six officers were believed dead.
Alejo also said that at the same spot "there are several cars buried there also, and we understand that some bodies are still in some of the cars."
As the water began to subside Saturday afternoon, the wheels and chassis of one overturned bus could be seen. The vehicle was buried up to the wheels by mud and rocks.
Nearby and partially buried by mud were construction machines and other vehicles that had been carried by the raging waters into the river. The riverside road was covered with debris.
Eduardo Pichardo, an employee of Transportes Frontera in Monterrey, said about 64 people were aboard the two buses from his company. He said one bus was en route to Monterrey from the border city of Nuevo Laredo and the other was on a run from Monterrey to Mexico City.
Nuevo Leon Gov. Jorge Trevino Martinez also reported heavy property damage in Monterrey, the state capital of Nuevo Leon and a city of 3 million about 110 miles from the Texas border.
The local newspaper El Norte said a trailer truck slid into the river in driving rain and its two occupants were missing.
Police said the buses were coming from the direction of Saltillo, about 55 miles west of Monterrey. Saltillo, a city of about 450,000, is the capital
f neighboring Coahuila state. Police said the buses probably had been diverted from their original routes because of flooded roads.
Sanchez said rising water stranded the buses on a low-lying stretch of road parallel to the river. As a special police unit, the Cobras, tried to rescue the passengers, the current increased, the water rose and the buses overturned.
Downstream from Monterrey, bodies were being recovered from the river, police said.
The bodies of an elderly woman, a small boy and two men, all unidentified, were found in the town of Juarez 14 miles east of Monterrey, said federal police spokesman Felipe de Jesus Banda Martinez.
In Cadereyta, 20 miles east of Monterrey, a police spokesman said another "eight or 10 bodies have been pulled out of the river." The spokesman, who did not give his name, said they might have washed down from Monterrey.
At noon EDT Saturday, the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, Fla., issued its final advisory on Gilbert.
It said the center of the storm was near latitude 25.5 north and longitude 101.0 west or about 220 miles west southwest of Brownsville, Texas, and 45 miles southwest of Monterrey.