The death toll from this week's devastating floods in Mexico climbed above 400 today as rescue workers pressed on with digging out people buried when a mudslide engulfed an entire village.

The extent of what President Ernesto Zedillo called the "tragedy of the decade" was becoming starkly clear as the rains eased and rescue workers were able to reach villages that had been cut off for days.

At least 200,000 people lost their homes to flood waters that swept over nine of Mexico's 31 states. Flash floods turned hillsides into deadly rivers of mud that reached rooftop level and buried alive villagers who took refuge in homes and schools.

The death toll of 425 includes the states of Puebla, neighboring Veracruz, central Hidalgo, Gulf state Tabasco and southeastern Chiapas. The total is more than the approximately 400 killed by Hurricane Pauline two years ago and the hundreds killed by floods last year in Chiapas.

The unofficial toll is much higher. The newspaper La Jornada published a tally today of 600 dead. And Formato 21 radio station said 206 had died in Zacatlan, another town in Puebla.

In central Puebla state at midday today, soldiers wearing surgical masks had been working without a break since arriving on Friday.

More than 80 bodies have been recovered from a mudslide Tuesday that buried the hillside village of La Aurora, near Teziutlan, 120 miles northeast of Mexico City.

The mayor's office in Teziutlan estimated 140 people died in the mudslide, and Police Chief Amadeo Andrade said rescue work was far from over.

"The search goes on. There are many [bodies] out there. That's not just saying so, they're there," Amadeo said.

David Padilla lost 16 relatives, including his wife, children and grandchildren. He also lost his in-laws, who were working at their home in La Aurora.

"I went out to buy tortillas when it all came apart. I tried to run, but what could I do? Nothing," Padilla told local radio. "All I want now is to recover the bodies of my children. What else is there?"

Carmen Hernandez, head nurse at the local state hospital, said rescue workers digging among the decomposing bodies and debris of homes and buildings were receiving tetanus shots.

"In this area there is a very fetid smell," Hernandez told local radio.

Health officials in Veracruz said that stagnant pools were a potential breeding ground for mosquitoes that could spread dengue, an acute infectious disease found in tropical regions.

The federal government mobilized about 10,000 soldiers, rescue workers and volunteers in the four states hardest hit.