Days after Hurricane Otis, a desperate search for food and water in Mexico | ET REALITY


The tourists were taken by bus from Acapulco to seek relief to the capital of Mexico. But thousands of residents were left behind to deal with the chaos and destruction of Hurricane Otis, which had turned their paradise into a wasteland.

Three days after the Category 5 storm made landfall in Mexico, residents Saturday navigated streets littered with broken glass, uprooted trees and downed telephone poles. People throughout Acapulco searched for water and other food in looted stores. Others used amateur radio to try to find their loved ones. And many asked Mexico’s leaders for basic resources.

“The government is not helping,” said Roberto Alvarado, 45, after arguing with a military sergeant who delivered only one box of food and four bottles of water to each home.

Alvarado said that was not enough amid the level of desperation that had led people in Acapulco to loot grocery stores.

“They loot because they want to eat,” he said. “There is not a single store open to buy food, not a single tortilla shop.”

The most powerful hurricane ever recorded to hit Mexico’s Pacific coast, Otis unleashed hours of terror, shocked meteorologists and government officials with its intensity, left the city effectively cut off from the outside world and killed at least 39 people, including 29 men and 10 women. , according to Mexican officials on Saturday. The number of missing people rose to 10, according to Rosa Icela Rodríguez, secretary of security. Residents expect the death toll to rise.

Those who survived the storm – 850,000 people had called the city of Acapulco, in the state of Guerrero, home before the hurricane – wondered how long it would take their government to provide basic resources, much less rebuild. Others asked if other precautions could have been taken to prevent widespread destruction.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who briefly visited the site, promised his nation an effective response to the hurricane. About 10,000 armed forces were deployed to the area, and some were seen on Friday clearing debris from the streets and marching down the beach’s main avenue in an open display of the government’s response.

Military planes carrying food and water began landing at an air force base Thursday and headed to a hangar damaged by the storm. Trucks carrying military and National Guard officers traveled through the neighborhoods to distribute aid to each home; Officials said they were rationing supplies.

As of Friday afternoon, the military had received more than 7,600 boxes of food and more than 11,000 liters of water at the Acapulco air base, with more on the way, said Lt. Karina Sánchez of the Mexican Army.

A civil protection official said he had bussed more than 140 tourists from Acapulco to the city of Chilpancingo, more than 60 miles to the north, and to the country’s capital, Mexico City, usually five hours away. But the roads were packed with vehicles and the trip would most likely take much longer.

“We did not expect a hurricane of such magnitude,” Lieutenant Sánchez said in an interview from the military hangar on Friday.

Forecast models had failed to predict that the tropical storm would intensify into a hurricane within 24 hours, generating winds of more than 165 mph and knocking out power and communications in much of Acapulco, outages that persisted days after it hit. The storm will make landfall.

“The lines are down,” said Lieutenant Sánchez. “But even so, aid is being sent to the population.”

The scale of the destruction was daunting. A preliminary analysis by Moody’s Analytics found that the cost of Hurricane Otis could be compared to that of Hurricane Wilma, another Category 5 hurricane, which hit Mexico’s Caribbean coast 18 years ago. Insured losses caused by that storm amounted to about $2.7 billion in 2005, according to official figures.

Evelyn Salgado Pineda, governor of the state of Guerrero, said that 80 percent of Acapulco’s hotels were damaged by this hurricane, some with their entire walls torn down.

The city’s general business sector will have difficulty recovering, according to Héctor Tejada, president of the Confederation of National Chambers of Commerce, Services and Tourism. “Unfortunately, it may be the case that many businesses can no longer open their doors due to lack of financial resources,” Tejada said.

Residents, however, focused on their immediate basic needs and searched for supplies. López Obrador acknowledged Friday morning that many businesses in the area had been looted.

Sheila Vanessa Andraca, 24, and José Raúl Vargas, 25, said they had traveled 11 miles to Acapulco after Hurricane Otis knocked out power to their community, Kilómetro 30, also in the state of Guerrero. Landslides blocked roads. At least one girl was missing and another was found dead in the rubble, they said. They pointed out that the dead girl could not be counted in the official toll in Mexico since the authorities had not yet visited her community.

Once the roads were partially clear, they ventured to Acapulco to try to find supplies for their families. “I said, ‘Well, let’s see if they’re selling stuff,’” Vargas said, holding up the single bottle of water the couple had been rationing all day.

But when they arrived at a supermarket, everything was gone.

“Now where are we going?” said Mrs. Andraca. “It’s shocking to see so much looting.”

Historically, Mexico has been praised internationally for its disaster recovery efforts and its reserve of federal disaster relief money. Studies found that the fund had helped quickly restore health services and eased obstacles in delivering disaster relief.

After Hurricane Maria hit the northeastern Caribbean in 2017, including Puerto Rico, Mexico arrived to the help of the United States even as it was recovering from its own disasters.

But López Obrador has faced criticism for overhauling the federal money fund two years ago in his attempt to achieve budget cuts across the federal government. He said corrupt officials were abusing the fund.

David Sislen, who works with Latin American and Caribbean countries on risk management strategies for the World Bank, said a task for any country recovering from a Category 5 storm would be to ensure that impoverished neighborhoods with aging infrastructure receive the same attention as “the brightest or most elegant central areas of cities.”

“The poor, the most vulnerable and the most excluded are the ones who suffer the most,” Sislen said.

In the long term, communities can take measures to avoid damage such as the outage of electricity and communication systems seen in Acapulco. Municipalities can guarantee that the main electrical infrastructures are not located in flood zones. They can invest in concrete telephone and utility poles instead of wooden poles, and place them underground. (The posts in Acapulco are concrete, but they seemed not to go underground).

Rubén Navarrete, an engineer at a telecommunications company in Querétaro, Mexico, has been working with a network of volunteers using amateur radio operators to help connect people with family members affected by Hurricane Otis. On Thursday, he said, he had delivered the message to a woman in the United States that her daughter in Acapulco was safe.

“The lady burst into tears,” Navarrete said. “She hadn’t had any communication; “She was terrified by what was happening with her daughter.”

Many of those still in Acapulco after the storm flocked to a parish converted into a shelter in the Costa Azul neighborhood. Inside, about 70 people slept in sleeping bags on benches Friday, silently praying or anxiously discussing their next move.

Martha Garcia, 63, said her husband, Abel Sanchez, 70, was released from the hospital Tuesday after contracting pneumonia three months ago. Then, on Wednesday morning, the hurricane effectively devastated Acapulco.

“It’s as if misfortune follows us,” he said.

Ms. Garcia had arrived at the shelter hoping someone could help her find an oxygen tank. But even finding food had been a big obstacle, she said. She had stumbled upon flour tortillas and canned beans in a looted store.

“That’s what we’ve been eating and what I’ve been giving to my husband,” she said.

He wasn’t planning to evacuate anytime soon, he said, adding: “What I need is oxygen.”

Emiliano Rodríguez Mega reported from Acapulco, Mexico and Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Elda Cantu From Mexico City. Simon Romero contributed reporting from Mexico City.

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