In the wake of Hurricane Otis, which devastated the Mexican resort city of Acapulco and claimed the lives of at least 27 people, survivors are spending Thursday seeking out friends and essential items, while hoping for prompt assistance.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
The powerful Pacific hurricane rapidly gained strength before making landfall on Wednesday, prompting the Mexican government to deploy roughly 10,000 troops to tackle the aftermath. However, there have been delays in the arrival of equipment necessary to clear the roads of tons of mud and fallen trees.
In impoverished neighborhoods, anger is growing as residents fear that the government will prioritize the restoration of infrastructure for the city’s tourism industry, rather than helping those in need.
Flora Contreras Santos, a housewife from a disadvantaged area on the outskirts of Acapulco, is appealing for assistance in locating a 3-year-old girl who got swept away from her mother in a landslide. She has been approaching soldiers, hoping to find someone who would take an interest in this tragic incident that occurred during the height of the storm.
“The mountain collapsed on them. The mud snatched the child from her mother’s arms,” Contreras said. “We need help; my mom is in a critical condition, and we can’t find the girl.”
Despite army bulldozers beginning to clear Acapulco’s main roads of knee-deep mud, Contreras’s pleas have not spurred the soldiers into action.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador traveled by road on Wednesday following the storm’s impact on Mexico’s iconic Pacific coast city. At least four people are reported missing, and it remains uncertain whether the 3-year-old girl is among them.
The president stated that Otis had toppled every power-line pole in the affected area, leaving a significant portion of the city’s 1 million inhabitants without electricity. Otis underwent a rapid transformation from a mild-mannered storm to a monster, leaving scientists struggling to comprehend how and why they failed to anticipate it.
“Luckily, people sought shelter and protected themselves, which is why there haven’t been many tragedies or loss of lives,” said López Obrador.
Acapulco’s municipal water system has failed, and nearly half a million homes have lost power. López Obrador emphasized that restoring power is a top priority, but as of Thursday evening, 300,000 homes and businesses are still without electricity.
In certain areas, brown floodwaters stretch for miles. Many residents are grabbing essential items from stores to survive. However, some people are taking more expensive items, resulting in widespread vandalism in local shops.
As cellular signals start to return in certain parts of the city, residents are organizing themselves with the assistance of friends and relatives living in Mexico and other parts of the United States. They are using online messaging platforms like WhatsApp to join neighborhood groups. As of Thursday, there were approximately 1,000 people across 40 chats, and the number continued to grow throughout the day.
They are sharing photographs of flooded areas and providing tips on finding cell phone signals. They are also seeking information about loved ones whom they haven’t heard from. Some are sharing pictures of lists containing the names of survivors seeking refuge in shelters, along with notes that say, “Lupita, we’re safe. I will call you when we have signal.”
When a newcomer joins a neighborhood group, individuals from outside the city ask them to look for specific residents.
Juan Pablo Lopez, 26, was on a call with his wife when the connection abruptly cut off due to Otis making landfall early on Wednesday. His wife had returned to Acapulco a month ago to be with her family and give birth to their son, while Lopez remained at their home in Cancún.
“I am very worried about our newborn son,” he said.
With no information on Wednesday, he created an online chat group with friends and family in Guerrero state, where Acapulco is located. He also invited friends who had relocated to the United States and requested that they add their local contacts.
“We began cross-referencing information, sharing what we discovered, almost like a WhatsApp newspaper,” Lopez explained.
However, as of Thursday afternoon, he had not received any news about his wife and son.
Unrest is prevalent in the storm-ravaged city, as residents empty local stores of goods.
Ricardo Diaz, a self-employed laborer, stood on Thursday with two handfuls of live chickens, gripping their legs. Diaz said that a chicken company had given him the chickens. Nearby, a woman pushed an office chair piled high with artificial Christmas wreaths and toilet paper onto the streets. Diaz watched in dismay as people entered a damaged store and carried armfuls of merchandise outside.
“They are going to force these stores to close, and it will harm Acapulco,” Diaz lamented.
Edith Villanueva, holding her daughter, expressed concern about Acapulco’s long-term prospects. She used to work at a cell phone store that has already been looted.
“They have already stolen all the phones,” she said. “Stealing food is one thing, but people are taking advantage of the situation.”
Acapulco police chief Enrique Vazquez Ramirez admitted on Thursday that there is little they can do to prevent people from emptying stores or to alleviate the traffic congestion caused by mud and fallen trees throughout much of the city.
“This is an entirely exceptional situation,” he remarked.
Some residents believe that it will take a year for Acapulco to recover. The task seems daunting, given the lack of electricity, gasoline shortages, limited cell phone coverage, and the destruction of numerous hotels caused by the storm.
Antonio Esparza, a marketing expert stuck in post-storm gridlock, is among the few optimists.
“This will ultimately benefit Acapulco because it will force the government to pay attention,” he said.
Larger stores that managed to stock up are not replenishing their shelves, making certain items harder to find. However, street vendors in certain areas are doing a brisk business as residents seek fresh food.
Acapulco’s once picturesque beachside hotels now appear as dilapidated ruins, with hundreds—possibly thousands—of windows blown out by the Category 5 hurricane. According to Miguel Angel Fong, president of the Mexican Hotel Association, 80% of the city’s hotels have sustained damage.
On Wednesday, hundreds of trucks from the state power company arrived in Acapulco, but power lines were submerged under several feet of mud and water.
It took almost the entire day on Wednesday for authorities to partially reopen the main highway connecting Acapulco to the state capital of Chilpancingo and Mexico City. This critical ground connection allowed dozens of emergency vehicles and trucks transporting personnel and supplies to reach the stricken port.
Acapulco’s commercial and military airports are still too severely damaged to resume flights, although López Obrador stated that plans are underway to establish an air bridge for resource transfers.
Situated at the base of steep hills, Acapulco is a city of contrasts, with luxurious residences and slums alike offering dazzling views of the Pacific Ocean. The port, which previously attracted Hollywood stars with its nightlife, sport fishing, and cliff diving shows, has in recent years fallen prey to rival organized crime groups, plunging the city into violence and driving away numerous international tourists.
AP writer Maria Verza in Mexico City contributed to this report. Associated Press science writer Seth Borenstein in Washington also provided input.
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Mark Stevenson, The Associated Press