ACAPULCO: The number of people dead and missing due to Hurricane Otis, a Category 5 storm that hammered the Mexican Pacific resort city of Acapulco last week, has risen to 100, the government of the southern state of Guerrero said yesterday.
Otis battered Acapulco with winds of 266kph on Wednesday, flooding the city, tearing roofs from homes, hotels, and other businesses, submerging vehicles, and severing communications as well as road and air connections.
Looting broke out as the city’s population of nearly 900,000 became increasingly desperate for food and water.
The government of Guerrero, Acapulco’s home state, said in a statement that 46 people were dead and 54 others were missing.
On Sunday, Mexico’s federal civil protection authorities said there were 48 dead, comprising 43 in Acapulco and five in nearby Coyuca de Benitez. Among the dead were a US citizen, a Briton, and a Canadian, according to Guerrero’s government.
Many residents of Acapulco were still struggling to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives yesterday afternoon.
Sixty-two-year-old Rumualda Hernandez from the Renacimiento neighbourhood a few kilometres back from the shore, urged the government to send help after walking 10 blocks from her wrecked home to get water from a cistern to wash clothes caked in mud.
“I was trembling with fear,” Hernandez said, recalling how the floodwaters at her house surged above head height as the storm raged. “I thought I was going to die.”
Fishermen and workers on tourism yachts gathered at Acapulco’s Playa Honda on Sunday afternoon to look for missing colleagues and friends, worried officials were not doing enough.
Luis Alberto Medina, a fisherman, said he was searching for six people who worked in the harbour.
“It was really horrible,” Medina said. “We’ve already found the bodies of others.”
Fear of assault
During a regular government press conference President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador urged local authorities to ensure that basic goods were being delivered to Acapulco’s population.
The cost of damage from the hurricane could climb as high as US$15 billion according to estimates, and Mexico has sent some 17,000 members of the armed forces to keep order and help distribute tonnes of food and supplies in Acapulco.
ATM machines have also been hit in the city.
Two service points will be set up in branches of an armed forces development bank in Acapulco to enable people to withdraw cash, the finance ministry said yesterday.
Access to food and water remains challenging, and retail group ANTAD yesterday urged the government to step up efforts to prevent looting at stores run by its members. Members include Soriana and Chedraui.
“We condemn acts of robbery by the population,” ANTAD said in a statement. “There is no justification for it.”
A line of some 150 people waiting for water provided by a local authority snaked down muddy streets in the La Frontera neighbourhood on Sunday afternoon, as residents holding empty water containers bemoaned the hours-long wait.
“Look how many of us there are,” said one of them, Emilia Rojas, looking around her in despair. “We’re so many. This water isn’t going to be enough.”
On a nearby street, Perla Rubi said the long wait was uncomfortable, given how desperate people were.
“We’ve been here since dawn, since five in the morning, risking getting robbed, because now they’re assaulting people in the streets,” she said. “Where’s the government help?”
The disaster struck Acapulco barely seven months before Mexico’s next presidential election, and Lopez Obrador yesterday reiterated his claim that critics were attacking his response to Otis and inflating its impact for electoral reasons.
His fiery denunciations sparked criticism that the president was downplaying the gravity of the disaster.