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Acapulco, Mexico (AFP) Sept 21, 2013
More than 100 people have been killed and scores are missing in landslides and flooding caused by heavy rain in Mexico, a senior government official said late Friday.
Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong delivered the grim news from the resort town of Acapulco, in one of the worst-affected regions, with President Enrique Pena Nieto by his side.
The death toll stood at 101, with 68 people missing following a massive mudslide that swallowed half of the village of La Pintada, in Guerrero state, Osorio Chong said.
Mexico was hammered by the one-two punch of tropical storms Ingrid and Manuel, which left a trail of destruction that damaged tens of thousands of homes, flooded cities and washed out roads.
After regenerating into a hurricane and hitting the northwestern state of Sinaloa late Thursday, affecting 100,000 people and killing three, Manuel finally dissipated over the mountains.
The state of Guerrero was the hardest hit, with at least 65 deaths and its Pacific resort of Acapulco left isolated after the two roads to Mexico City were covered in landslides on Sunday.
Osorio Chong also said that authorities are searching for a police helicopter that had been evacuating people from La Pintada when it disappeared Thursday. Only crew members were apparently missing.
Rescuers have abandoned the search by air because of heavy fog, but have continued to search by land, Osorio Chong said.
"We are really worried," the minister earlier told Radio Formula. "They risked their lives all the time, because it was important to evacuate people."
'Thank God we're leaving'
Thousands of tourists trapped in flood-stricken Acapulco for almost a week packed into cars and buses on Friday after authorities reopened the road link to Mexico City following the storms.
Traffic piled up as police allowed cars to leave in groups of 50 to avoid huge backups on the "Sun Highway."
The highway department warned travelers that the trip north, which usually takes around four hours, would last nine to 10 hours, with only a single lane open in some stretches and a diversion to another road.
"Thank God we're leaving, even if there is traffic," said Imelda Cuellar Ramirez, a Mexican holidaymaker who was driving out with eight relatives.
More than 40,000 tourists, mostly Mexicans seeking sun during a three-day holiday weekend, were left stranded when the storms struck five days ago.
Half the city was flooded, while rising waters brought out crocodiles. Looters ransacked stores.
Around 24,000 tourists left in airlifts organized by the military and commercial carriers, but tempers flared as they stood in long lines to get one of the precious seats.
Thousands of frustrated tourists sheltered at the convention center blocked an avenue for half an hour late Thursday in protest against the slow pace of the airlift.
Waiting to board a bus, Alejandro Tubias, a Mexico City resident, said it was high time to leave after his wife contracted a stomach bug that they blamed on the lack of drinking water.
"We are more than happy. We are in a hurry to go because my wife is sick and because we don't have any money to pay the hotel room," he said.
More than 4,000 tourists left on 105 buses on Friday, officials said.
While tourists drove out of Acapulco, hundreds of troops and civil protection workers dug with shovels and pickaxes in La Pintada, the coffee-growing village west of Acapulco swamped by a massive mudslide.
Officially, 68 people are missing in the village and two people were killed -- their bodies were pulled out of the debris -- but villagers fear that scores have perished.
"I think there's a lot of dead. A lot of my relatives died, they're buried and we can't do anything," said farmer Diego Zeron.
The mud collapsed on the village of 400 people during independence day celebrations last Monday, swallowing homes, a school and church before crashing into the river.
The soldiers and civil protection workers, many wearing surgical masks, removed pieces of broken homes and chopped up fallen trees with machetes.
Helicopters evacuated more than 330 villagers to Acapulco, but a few families decided to stay back, waiting for news on the missing.
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