ACAPULCO, Mexico — Days usually start long before sunrise in La Pintada, where able-bodied men and the women without young children leave home before 6 a.m. to work the coffee fields around the tiny village deep in the rugged green mountains of southern Mexico.
But Monday was a holiday, and rain fell all day because of the tropical storm off the coast, so far more people than usual stayed home, napping under warm blankets or cooking for the Independence Day celebration in La Pintada’s little cobblestone square.
Families gossiped. Children played at their parents’ feet. Then, suddenly, the earth trembled.
For a split second everyone thought it was one of the region’s regular earthquakes. But then a tidal wave of dirt, rocks and trees exploded off the hill above the village, sweeping through the center of town, burying families in their homes and sweeping wooden houses into the bed of the swollen river that winds past La Pintada on its way to the Pacific.
“Everyone who could ran into the coffee fields. It smothered the homes and sent them into the river. Half the homes in town were smothered and buried,” said Marta Alvarez, a 22-year-old homemaker who was cooking with her 2-year-old son, two brothers and her parents when the landslide erupted.
Sixty-eight people in the village of about 800 remained missing early today, with most presumed dead, making La Pintada the scene of the single greatest tragedy in the twin paths of destruction wreaked by Tropical Storm Manuel and Hurricane Ingrid, which simultaneously pounded both of Mexico’s coasts over the weekend, spawning huge floods and landslides across hundreds of miles of coastal and inland areas.
Manuel later gained hurricane force and rolled into the northern state of Sinaloa on Thursday morning before weakening over land. By Thursday night it had degenerated into an area of low pressure over the western Sierra Madre mountains, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
The death toll from the weekend storms stood at 97 but was certain to rise since the figure doesn’t include the missing in La Pintada. Sinaloa authorities said a fisherman had drowned in choppy waters and a young man and a 5-year-old boy had disappeared in flooded canyons.