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31 bodies pulled from bus

Up to 60 were aboard when the mudslide hit in southeastern Mexico. Rescuers hope to finish before the next storm.

July 06, 2007|Sam Enriquez and Cecilia Sanchez | Times Staff Writers

MEXICO CITY — Rescue workers retrieved 31 bodies Thursday from a bus that was buried a day earlier in a landslide on a two-lane mountain road about 150 miles southeast of the capital.

Authorities said the tons of rock and mud flattened the bus to a third of its height and there were no survivors. They estimated that up to 60 passengers were on the bus, which ran through rural towns in the rugged Sierra Negra mountains of southeastern Puebla state.

Local rescue workers, joined by federal crews and the army, were hoping to finish the recovery operation before the next rainstorm. Heavy rains over the last two weeks have weakened the steep hillside, endangering crews that were using shovels and heavy equipment to reach the buried bus, authorities said.

The road was completed last August, converting a former dirt path into a two-lane state highway connecting San Miguel Eloxochitlan with Tlacotepec. In the last month, local authorities said, they had petitioned for state help to re-engineer some stretches of road that had been damaged by smaller landslides earlier this year.

"We believed the road was dangerous because of the steep mountainsides," said Antonio Gonzalez, an official in San Miguel Eloxochitlan.

A spokesman for Puebla Gov. Mario Marin said the state had no record of the complaint. "On the contrary," said Ismael Rios, "they've been thanking us for building a road through their communities."

Authorities suspect another vehicle was buried in the mudslide, but it has not been located.

The recovery operation is expected to take at least another day.

So far, 19 people, including three children, have been identified. Most were from San Miguel Eloxochitlan and Tlacotepec, authorities said.

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sam.enriquez@latimes.com

Carlos Martinez in The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.

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