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Authorities search for survivors after hurricanes ravage Mexico

Rescuers have been searching for survivors in a Mexican village that was covered by a massive mudslide. Heavy storms have ravaged the country for days, leaving 97 people dead and spurring mass evacuations.

Around 100 soldiers and police officers worked to remove debris in La Pintada on Thursday after a mudslide buried half the mountain village of 400 people, located near the Pacific resort of Acapulco.

Mexico has been hit by severe weather over the past several days. Luis Felipe Puente, the national civil protection coordinator, said the death toll across the country had risen to 97, with more than a third of the victims coming from the southwestern state of Guerrero.

Village destroyed

Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said two bodies had been recovered in La Pintada, but 68 people remain missing, with many presumed dead.

The wave of dirt, rocks and trees that swept through the coffee-growing hamlet buried homes, the school and the church before crashing into a river.

The mudslide hit La Pintada on Monday, but news of the devastation only became known two days later when a resident radioed a nearby village. Survivors were taken to Acapulco's convention center.

Rescue work has been made difficult by the water still running down hills in the area, heightening the risk of further mudslides.

Days of storms

Hurricanes Manuel and Ingrid have brought heavy rainfall to the country, shutting down bridges and roads and damaging tens of thousands of homes. Around 1 million people have been affected by the weather and 50,000 evacuated.

President Enrique Pena Nieto announced he was calling off his planned trip to the United Nations General Assembly in New York next week to focus on coordinating relief efforts.

"The rainfall in the last few days has been the most intense registered in history over an extended area in Mexico," he told reporters in Guerrero.

Half of Acapulco was covered in water, including the road to the airport, stranding some 40,000 tourists. Authorities said more than 15,000 of those stranded had already been flown out of the city on specially organized military and commercial flights. Mexico's federal transport secretary promised to have the highway out of Acapulco restored by noon Friday.

Although the severe weather appears to have eased in some areas, the risk of further rain looms. The US National Hurricane Center said a low pressure area over the Gulf of Mexico had a 50 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone over the next two days. Such a scenario could bring heavy rainfall to areas already swamped by flooding.

Government facing criticism

Federal officials have come under scrutiny for focusing on Mexico's independence celebrations and military parade that tied up aircraft and emergency vehicles, rather than warning people of the impending storms. Human rights groups have also accused the government of neglecting the country's rural mountain communities.

"The underlying issue is that the federal government bears a large part of the responsibility for this tragedy," said Congressman Manuel Huerta of the leftist Labor Party.

However, Federal Security spokesman Eduardo Sanchez insisted to reporters that emergency "protocols were strictly followed."

Officials have set up donation centers to help aid the crisis and the Finance Ministry said it has 12 billion pesos ($945 million, 698 million euros) in relief funds.

dr/ccp (AFP, Reuters, AP)