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Mexico throws troops, aid into Acapulco as hurricane death toll rises

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Men carrying bottles of water pass by destroyed cars in the aftermath of Hurricane Otis in Acapulco, Mexico, on Oct. 28, 2023.

Alexandre Meneghini | Reuters

Mexico’s government on Sunday intensified efforts to get the stricken coastal city of Acapulco back on its feet as the toll of dead and missing from a record-breaking hurricane that ravaged the iconic beach resort continued to rise.

Hurricane Otis ripped through Acapulco as a Category 5 storm on Wednesday, wrecking homes, hotels and businesses with 165 mph (266 kph) winds which downed power lines and communications, leaving the city of nearly 900,000 inhabitants incommunicado.

Looting broke out as food, water and gasoline became scarce after the destruction caused by Otis, which the government on Sunday said had killed 48 people, with six people missing.

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The governor of the southern state of Guerrero, where Acapulco is located, earlier said 36 people were unaccounted for.

A day earlier, the toll stood at 39 dead and 10 missing.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said most of his cabinet was already in or headed for Acapulco, and that he would return there later on Sunday to lead recovery efforts as thousands of soldiers and police descended on the city.

“We’re going to get Acapulco back on its feet, starting with its people,” he said in a video on social media.

Dozens of pieces of broken boats dotted the bay on Sunday, with smashed yachts and dinghies piled up on the shore.

Captain Alejandro Cortez, 66, abandoned his yacht when he saw the hurricane picking up speed.

“We ran, we jumped down, and we left the ship all alone,” he recounted from a pier where he gazed at the water, remembering waves seven meters high.

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“And that’s why I’m sitting here now. God gave me that decision,” he added, pointing upward. Some fellow workers turned up alive, but the search is ongoing for others, he said.

“There are many people that still haven’t been found.”

The cost of damage could climb as high as $15 billion, according to estimates, and Lopez Obrador said the ministers of finance and the economy would be in Acapulco on Monday. He also invited the Mexican central bank governor to travel there.

Residents in flooded areas have criticized the lack of government help. Many are struggling to find food and water.

“I was cleaned out, left with nothing,” said Blanca Estela Morales, a wheelchair-bound 52-year-old staying in a government-run shelter after her home was flooded. “This is really hard for me — we sleep on the floor, we don’t have water to wash with.”

Political fallout

The disaster struck Acapulco barely seven months away from Mexico’s next presidential election, and Lopez Obrador this weekend accused his critics of attacking his response to Otis and inflating its impact for electoral reasons.

His fiery political broadsides triggered criticism that Lopez Obrador was downplaying the gravity of the disaster, even as families desperately searched for missing relatives and more drowned victims were recovered from Acapulco’s bay.

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Former President Felipe Calderon, a longstanding adversary of Lopez Obrador, accused his administration of trying to exploit the situation by “rebranding” boxes of private aid contributions to Acapulco as “government” donations.

Reuters could not immediately verify how boxes with such donations had been marked. Presidential spokesman Jesus Ramirez said Calderon was “lying,” and accused some politicians and media outlets of trying to benefit from the tragedy.

Mexico has sent some 17,000 members of the armed forces to keep order and help distribute tonnes of food and supplies in Acapulco, the biggest city in Guerrero.

Clean-up efforts are likely to take time, and the government in an update on Sunday said Otis damaged 273,844 homes in Guerrero — more than the 223,924 homes registered in Acapulco in 2020 — along with 600 hotels and condominiums.

Damaged boats are seen at the shore in the aftermath of Hurricane Otis, in Acapulco, Mexico, on Oct. 28, 2023.

Quetzalli Nicte-ha | Reuters

One community remains cut off due to an overflowing river, the government also said.

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Guerrero Governor Evelyn Salgado said electricity has been restored to 58% of Acapulco and that officials had visited 10,000 families in the area to assess the damage.

Lopez Obrador said he expected electricity to be fully restored in the city by Tuesday.

Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval said about 5,000 National Guard members would be assigned to security and that the armed forces were taking control of gas stations after Lopez Obrador asked him how efforts to stop looting were going.

“It was hugely important to take the gas stations,” Sandoval said. “Because there could be an even worse tragedy.”

Source: CNBC

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