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Flood Swamps Whole Mexican Town

September 20, 1998

VALDIVIA, Mexico (AP) _ This small town on Mexico’s Pacific Coast is no more. It was buried under tons of mud, rocks and fallen trees brought by torrential floods earlier this month that devastated much of southern Chiapas state.

About the only thing that could be seen standing in Valdivia over the weekend was a big statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the main square and the locomotive and cars of a freight convoy in the train station _ both partly buried in caked mud.

Several hundred survivors in the community of 7,000 people say as many as 200 bodies may be buried under the avalanche that rolled off mountainsides down the Novillero River and into the lowlands.

Many more were injured and many were missing _ perhaps swept out to sea. No one was sure and information was hard to come by. No official death toll has been given and Valdivia was still largely isolated Saturday. Food was scarce and so was drinking water.

A few government helicopters came in with food and medicine. But they had to land outside town to avoid getting stuck in the mud.

After days of rain, the slide began in the early morning of Sept. 8, said survivor Alejandra Dominguez, who on Saturday sat dejectedly on the platform of the train station, staring at Locomotive No. 5848.

Dominguez said her husband, the station watchman, was struck by a boulder near the station and taken to a nearby hospital.

``Many people were swept away and died here. I saved myself (by) climbing on top of the engine,″ Dominguez said, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Judith Escobar, a widow and mother of six, also survived the mudslide. ``There are many dead, maybe several hundred. We saw how they were swept away by the waters. We were saved by God’s will,″ she said.

Near downtown, rows of houses and other buildings were covered with mud _ some with their roofs smashed. A few dogs and pigs rooted in the debris looking for something to eat.

Scavenger birds circled overhead, attracted by the smell of decaying bodies. A few men with tools were digging in the mud, trying to clear a few homes and looking for some loose timbers to build a lean-to.

One was Guadalupe Vasquez, a farmer from the edge of town. He and his family were saved. ``But I lost everything. The farm was wiped out.″

In the rest of the state, things weren’t much better. The federal Department of Health warned the death toll in Chiapas could rise as more bodies are recovered.

President Ernesto Zedillo arrived Saturday in the town of Tapachula, near the border with Guatemala, for his fifth visit in 10 days to coordinate relief efforts.

Like Valdivia, at least 35 rural communities have been badly damaged and remain virtually inaccessible.

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