Rescuers planned to resume the search on Saturday for victims of a landslide that toppled tons of massive boulders on a steep neighborhood outside Mexico City, killing at least one person and leaving 10 missing.
The operation is complicated by the sheer size of the boulders that broke away from the summit known as Chiquihuite on Friday afternoon, the neighborhood’s narrow trails largely inaccessible to heavy machinery, and the ominous instability of the exposed mountain face that looms above.
The landslide in Tlalnepantla in the state of Mexico followed days of heavy rain in central Mexico and a 7.0 magnitude earthquake on Tuesday in Acapulco that shook buildings 320 kilometers away in the capital. Mexico State Governor Alfredo del Mazo said late Friday that both factors likely contributed to the fall.
Neighborhood residents immediately began digging for their neighbors on Friday. They formed lines through the towering pile of debris, passing buckets of debris and individual rocks downward.
Francisca Trejo, 57, rested by the pile with a pair of dirt-stained gardening gloves. “It looked like a truck dumping rocks, but for a very, very long time,” she said.
Marcelo Israel Sanchez, 39, waited at home for authorities to tell him what his wife and three children should do. He didn’t want to leave the house until the area was secure, but also feared the possibility of additional slides. Over 80 surrounding homes were evacuated in case more of the mountain collapsed.
“The earthquake felt strong and probably because of that came the landslide,” Sanchez said.
Authorities pulled rescuers from the pile after dark due to the risk of falling rocks.
“We don’t want anyone to take additional risks,” said Ricardo De La Cruz, assistant secretary of the interior for the state of Mexico. “Geologists told us that the landslide is complicated. We have done flights with drones and we don’t want to put anyone in danger.”
The priority on Saturday was to stabilize the slope and continue the search, he said.
Canine unit finds no survivors
The likelihood of finding survivors was diminishing because rescuers had flown over the site with dogs and sensitive equipment “and we didn’t detect anything,” De La Cruz said.
“The image was terrifying,” said Alan Hernandez, a member of the Topos Mexico K-9 Rescue Squad, or “Mexico Moles K-9.” He searched with his dog Oreo, a rescue expert who had been involved in the search when the condo collapsed in Surfside, Florida. At Tlalnepantla on Friday, Oreo hadn’t found anyone.
On Friday afternoon, rescuers had carried a body on a stretcher covered with a sheet in front of AP journalists. Mexico’s state civil defense agency said in a statement that at least 10 people were missing.
18-year-old Isaac Carmona, a neighborhood resident who lived a few houses from the waterslide, came to help on Friday. He saw a woman taken from the heap alive on a stretcher with a bloody face.
A Mexican state spokesperson confirmed there had been a rescue.