November 30, 2023

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Hurricane Otis death toll reaches 39 as searchers comb through debris around Acapulco: NPR

Hurricane Otis death toll reaches 39 as searchers comb through debris around Acapulco: NPR

People take items from stores in the wake of Hurricane Otis in Acapulco, Mexico, Saturday, October 28, 2023.

Felix Marquez/AP

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Felix Marquez/AP

People take items from stores in the wake of Hurricane Otis in Acapulco, Mexico, Saturday, October 28, 2023.

Felix Marquez/AP

ACAPULCO, Mexico – More resources are arriving on Mexico’s devastated Pacific Coast, and the death toll from Hurricane Otis is growing as searchers recover more bodies from the port of Acapulco and under fallen trees and other storm debris.

President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador said Saturday that his opponents are trying to inflate losses to hurt him politically, but few expect the latest death toll to reach 39 people. Hundreds of families are still waiting for word from their loved ones.

Otis barreled ashore early Wednesday with damaging 165 mph winds after intensifying so quickly that people had little time to prepare.

Christian Vera stood on an Acapulco beach Saturday looking at dozens of sunken boats, including three of her own, all marked with buoys floating or just sticking out of the water.

Despite losing her livelihood in the harsh Otis Passage across Mexico’s Pacific coast, the 44-year-old fisherman felt lucky. Earlier in the day, she saw a body being pulled from the water and saw families coming and going looking for their loved ones.

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The Mexican authorities raised the official toll announced by Otis to 39 dead and 10 missing on Saturday. But Vera and others noted that number is likely to rise, in part because of the number of people boating during what started as a tropical storm, and in just 12 hours turned into a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane.

Vera and four others took turns swimming with empty gas jugs for flotation to try to raise their sinking boats from the shallow harbor.

Leaning on a small wooden fishing boat like hers, leaning on its side on a beach strewn with trash and fallen trees, she explained that some of the people who died were either fishermen looking after their boats or yacht captains whose owners had told them. They needed to make sure their boats were okay when Otis was still a tropical storm.

“That night I was very worried because I live on this, and this is how I feed my children,” Vera said. “But when I started to feel how strong the wind was, I said: ‘Tomorrow I won’t have a boat, but God willing, Acapulco will see another day.’”

Earlier on Saturday, Security Minister Rosa Aisela Rodriguez said in a recorded video message with Lopez Obrador posted on Platform She added that the identities of the victims have not yet been identified and that investigations are continuing.

Firefighters and divers search for bodies near sunken boats at a yacht club in Acapulco, Mexico, Saturday, October 28, 2023, in the wake of Hurricane Otis.

Felix Marquez/AP

The new death toll represents an increase of 12 from the initial toll of 27 announced on Thursday. But the human toll caused by the storm has become a point of contention. Rodriguez also said that the number of missing people had risen to 10.

In Acapulco, government workers and volunteers cleared streets, gas station lines snaked around the block for fuel, and some lucky families found basic food supplies as a more organized relief operation began four days after the storm.

Military personnel and volunteers worked along Acapulco’s main tourist strip. They cut down fallen palm trees and metal signs. Mobile phone signals were partially restored near some of the most luxurious hotels, and authorities set up a charging station for people to charge their phones.

But on the outskirts of the city, neighborhoods remained in complete chaos. The government presence in the tourist center was not visible in other areas. With no signal, water or food, people young and old were making their way through mud and flooded streets to reach large warehouses that someone had found filled with food. They carried bags of food and liquids.

Aid was slow to arrive. The storm’s devastation isolated the city of nearly a million people on the first day, and because it intensified so quickly on Tuesday, little to nothing was organized in advance.

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The authorities had a difficult task to search for the dead and missing.

A military officer, who did not want to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said that searchers in his area had found at least six bodies, and that his unit had found one. He added that it was difficult to find the bodies because they were often covered by trees and other debris.

Most families are anxiously searching for water, and some say they are rationing their supplies. The municipal water system was down due to a power outage to its pumps.

Officials said the military presence would rise to 15,000 soldiers in the area, and Lopez Obrador called on the armed forces to set up checkpoints in the city to avoid robberies.

The president said that the National Electricity Company informed him that service had been restored to 55% of customers in the affected area, but that more than 200,000 homes and businesses were still without electricity.

He said that the Federal Civil Defense Agency counted 220,000 homes damaged by the storm.