As many as 60 people were feared to have died yesterday after a landslide swallowed a bus in Puebla state in central Mexico.
Emergency workers expressed little hope of recovering any survivors, as the army worked alongside them overnight at the sight of the accident to dig up the bus.
The first body, of a 40-year-old woman, was recovered by rescuers late on Wednesday more than 12 hours after the accident, Puebla Governor Mario Marin said.
Though it took several hours for rescue operations to begin, more than 400 soldiers, firefighters and other rescue workers eventually arrived. By 8pm the bus had been located, according to Miguel Monterrubio, a spokesman for Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
The accident happened around 7:45am on a mountainous road between Tlacotepec de Porfirio Diaz and Zoquitlan in the Sierra Negra, a remote region of forested mountains at the juncture of the states of Puebla, Oaxaca and Veracruz.
Witnesses said 300m of the road was covered by large boulders and earth in a landslide that came after heavy rains the night before. The crush of earth pushed the bus off the road and nearly 150m down a ravine, where it disappeared under the mud, rocks and trees.
Most of the passengers were from small farm towns in the municipality of San Miguel Eloxochitlan and were on their way to the largest town in the area, Tehuacan, to market their goods and to pick up an annual agriculture subsidy from the government, people from the town said.
Rosario Trujillo, a town official, said the bus had been full as it left Tlacotepec 20 minutes before the tragedy. Local people rushed to try to reach and free the bus with shovels and sticks, but the police warned them off.
"The hill is still falling, and the authorities will not let us put more people in danger," she was quoted as saying by the daily Reforma.
Miguel Angel Rodriguez, a shopkeeper from a nearby village who tried to help, said: "Everyone is buried. People cannot dig because huge rocks keep falling down."
Six hours after the bus was buried, no ambulances or heavy equipment had arrived, said Eduardo Sedeno, a spokesman for the newspaper El Mundo in Tehuacan.
As the afternoon wore on, Calderon ordered the army and the Interior Ministry to help.
But it was not until 4pm that two earth movers arrived and began to excavate, said Jesus Portillo, a spokesman for the Puebla state civil protection agency.
Rains and other mudslides made it hard for heavy machinery to reach the site.
Carmen Garcia Montes, the Red Cross director in Tehuacan, said she sent two ambulances in the morning, but the paramedics had trouble reaching the site and could do little once they got there "because half the hill had slid down."
Relentless rain has arrived in recent days with the start of the annual rainy season, causing minor flooding and occasional mudslides in many parts of Mexico.