A resident searches for survivors Sept. 29 buried after a landslide in Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec in the southern state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Rescue efforts have been impeded by washed-out roads, swollen rivers and thick fog after the Sept. 28 landslide. (CNS photo/Henry Romero, Reuters)

MEXICO CITY –– Catholic dioceses across southern and eastern Mexico are urging generosity in response to widespread flooding and landslides that have claimed dozens of lives in some of the most impoverished pockets of the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.

Bishop Hector Guerrero Cordova of Mixes said the 17 parishes in his prelature were collecting food, clothing and other materials to help residents of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, where a Sept. 28 mudslide claimed at least 11 lives – a figure far lower than the hundreds feared buried by cascading mud as they slept in their homes.

The damage, Bishop Guerrero told Catholic News Service, was enormous, although the local St. Mary of the Assumption Parish was left largely intact and three priests – including the parish pastor – were serving the indigenous village of subsistence farmers.

“There are a lot of houses that are on the brink of collapsing,” Bishop Guerrero said, adding that the landslide victims were living in temporary shelters and that accessing the area was still difficult because of washed-out roads and bridges.

Heavy and unrelenting rains are believed to have provoked the mudslide – one of just many weather-related calamities in southern and eastern Mexico and farther south in Guatemala.

Priests in the Mixe region of Oaxaca said heavy rains had left the area of steep hills and deep valleys prone to mudslides – and most likely provoked the tragedy in Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec.

The Archdiocese of Oaxaca appealed for donations and established collection centers to assist the landslide victims and the more than 100,000 state residents impacted by floods. The Diocese of Huajuapan de Leon, also in Oaxaca, turned its more than 70 parishes into collection centers for helping flood victims.

Catholic leaders in neighboring Chiapas issued an urgent appeal for prayers and assistance after mudslides provoked by tropical depression Matthew claimed 16 lives in the indigenous municipality of Amatan.

“These are the moments that allow us to enhance our virtues, above all generosity,” said Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera Lopez of Tuxtla Gutierrez in a Sept. 30 statement.

The archdiocese planned to hold collections for its local Caritas chapter on consecutive Sundays.

The disasters in Oaxaca and Chiapas followed Hurricane Karl storming through Veracruz state in mid-September and floodwaters once again rising in the low-lying Gulf state of Tabasco.

At least one church official called for a change of strategy in Mexico, where the military and civil protection response to natural disasters is exemplary and citizens respond with enormous outpourings of support, but tragedies recur – often in the same places.

“We urgently require the teaching and development of a culture of prevention against natural disasters,” Archbishop Jose Chavez Botello of Oaxaca said in a Sept. 27 statement.

“Many human miseries, material losses, illnesses and social disturbances can be avoided,” he added.