ACAPULCO, Mexico (Reuters) – Looting swept through the Mexican city of Acapulco after the popular beach resort was hit this week by Hurricane Otis, a record storm that killed at least 27 people and left thousands of residents struggling for food. And water.
Otis pounded Acapulco with winds of 266 kilometers per hour early Wednesday, submerging the city, tearing off the roofs of houses, shops and hotels, sinking vehicles and cutting off communications as well as land and air routes.
The cost of the damage caused by the category 5 storm was estimated at billions of dollars, and more than 8,000 members of the armed forces were sent to help the stricken port recover.
“Right now the money is of no use to us because there is nothing to buy, everything is looted,” Acapulco resident Rodolfo Villagomez (57 years old) said after Otis invaded the city. “It was complete chaos. You could hear it hissing like a bull in here.”
On Thursday evening, people carried goods including food, water and toilet paper from stores. “We came to get food because we don’t have any,” a woman told Reuters.
A Reuters video showed people carrying boxes from a destroyed store and loading cars. Inside, the shelves were bare.
“There has been looting in some places due to the state of emergency,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday, urging residents not to take advantage of the situation.
Elsewhere, household waste was scattered among destroyed deck chairs and a jumble of mangled trees outside destroyed homes.
Speaking at a regular news conference, Lopez Obrador said the government would help people in the city of about 900,000 in the southern state of Guerrero, one of Mexico’s poorest states.
But many residents said the aid was insufficient.
“All the stores are closed or destroyed,” said Raul Busto Ramirez, 76, an engineer who works at Acapulco Airport. He blamed the looting on the shortage and said ATMs had become dysfunctional, leaving people without money.
The government published little information about the dead and wounded, saying only that four people were also missing. Some officials privately express concern about the high death toll.
Letitia Murphy said she began to worry when she lost contact with her ex-husband and the father of her two children, 59-year-old Briton Neil Marshall, who was in Acapulco when he struck Otis.
Murphy said she found out about his death via social media after residents discovered his body near where he was staying.
“We can’t even get information about him,” she told Reuters by phone. “It’s terrible that we don’t know what to do.”
The Mexican and British governments did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Another weather front that could produce more heavy rain is expected to gain strength off Central America in the coming days, moving once again toward southern Mexico.
‘We were lucky’
Mexican authorities said Otis was the strongest hurricane ever to hit Mexico’s Pacific coast. It surprised forecasters, gathering strength unexpectedly quickly before reaching shore, exceeding initial expectations.
However, Lopez Obrador said, “We were lucky.”
He added: “Nature, our Creator, protected us, even under the force of the hurricane.” “There is a lot of material damage, but fortunately we did not record a large number of deaths.”
To evacuate tourists, an air bridge was established between Acapulco and Mexico City on Friday after authorities restored the city’s destroyed airport.
The government has not yet estimated the cost of Otis, but Enkei Research, which tracks tropical storms and models the cost of damage, has predicted that the cost is likely “close to $15 billion.” Lopez Obrador urged insurance companies to speed up the payment process.
Governments sent messages of solidarity to Mexico, and Pope Francis expressed his condolences on Friday.
US President Joe Biden expressed his condolences to the hurricane victims in a brief statement on Friday evening, pledging to provide “full support” to the Mexican government as well as help ensure the safety of US citizens in the region.
State power company CFE said Friday it had restored 50% of electricity service in Guerrero and Mexican telecom company America Movil had restored nearly 60% of cell service.
Jeff, a 65-year-old Canadian who lives in Acapulco, said he was stuck in the city and worried about how he would survive in the coming days because “all the stores were looted.”
“The disaster here is unbelievable,” he said. “We don’t see anything happening except people trying to do everything they can to survive the next couple of weeks or months.”
(Reporting by Alexander Meneghini, José Cortés and Koetsali Nekte Ha in Acapulco; Preparing by Muhammad for the Arabic Bulletin) Diego Orr and Kylie Madre in Mexico City, Laura Gottesdiener in Monterrey, and Natalia Siniewski in Gdańsk; Writing by Dave Graham. Edited by Chizuo Nomiyama, Bill Berkrot, Sandra Mahler, and Raju Gopalakrishnan
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