LA PINTADA, Mexico (AFP) - The broken church steeple of La Pintada lay sideways atop a mountain of mud, toppled after earth tumbled from a hill and buried half the Mexican village of 400 people.
Few homes were spared by the mudslide that crashed on the mountain hamlet, leaving 68 people missing and turning La Pintada into a grim symbol of the fierce storms that have lashed Mexico for days and killed 97 nationwide.
Around 100 soldiers and police officers arrived in the village on Thursday, some by helicopter, others after an exhausting seven-hour hike on a road covered by landslides.
Wearing surgical masks, they dug in the mud for victims, removed pieces of broken homes and chopped collapsed trees with machetes.
Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, who visited the site and spoke to survivors, said two bodies were pulled from the mudslide so far. The municipality's mayor has said that 15 victims were pulled out by residents in recent days.
A stray dog rummaged for food on the debris. A pick-up truck was pushed by the mud onto a building's white column. The mudslide ended its mad descent in the village river.
The ghostly silence was only broken by the noise made by soldiers moving debris. A stench wafts from the mess of mud and buried homes. A light rain fell and a misty cloud surrounded what was left of La Pintada.
The rescuers' arrival was delayed over fears that water gushing from the hill could unleash a new torrent of mud.
More than 330 survivors were evacuated by helicopter, while authorities planned to pick up the remaining 45 people, including some women and children and an elderly man on a wheelchair, on Thursday.
On Monday, a rumbling noise came down the hill as children played soccer, women prepared corn tortillas for an independence day lunch and other villagers prayed in the church.
"People were in the church asking God to stop the rain," said Roberto Catalan, a 56-year-old farmer whose six children and wife immigrated to the United States.
"The earth had been bubbling. When we heard a bang, we ran out," he said.
The only thing left from the church was its steeple, with the bells dangling precariously over mud and the white cross hanging down.
Jose Minos Romero, 12, said he was playing soccer with 10 other children and was only saved "because my mother called me" but "my friends died".
Guerrero state Governor Angel Aguirre said many people survived because they celebrated independence day in the village square, "but many boys had stayed home".
Mr Ediberto Tabarez, the mayor of Atoyac de Alvarez, the municipality that oversees La Pintada, said 20 homes were buried but nobody is really sure.
As rescuers looked for bodies, survivors picked up their belongings, corralled wet dogs and grabbed parakeet cages as horses roamed around.
"We're going to leave the village. The smell will contaminate everything," said Victor Gonzalez Maldonado, a 33-year-old coffee grower.
Osorio Chong said 20 to 30 survivors decided to stay behind.
"They don't want to leave because they hope to find their relatives," he said. "The rescue work has begun, it's very complicated. It won't be easy. It won't be just a few days."