September 18, 2013

Mexico floods kill 80; thousands stranded

Many tell of spending the weekend trapped by torrential rains inside their hotels, emerging to discover there was no way back home.

By Michael Weissenstein / The Associated Press

ACAPULCO, Mexico — The death toll from days of flooding in southern and central Mexico rose to 80 on Wednesday, and new reports of landslides in a village near the resort of Acapulco threatened to drive the number of casualties even higher.

click image to enlarge

Tourists stand in line at a military airbase in hopes of getting a seat on a Mexican Air Force jet, in Pie de la Cuesta, near Acapulco, Mexico, on Tuesday.

AP

Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said federal authorities had reached the village, known as La Pintada, by helicopter and had airlifted out 35 residents, four of whom were seriously injured in the slide, but they had not yet seen any bodies.

"It doesn't look good, based on the photos we have in our possession," Osorio Chong said, while noting that "up to this point, we do not have any (confirmed) as dead in the landslide." Earlier, speaking to local media, Osorio Chong said "this is a very powerful landslide, very big ... You can see that it hit a lot of houses."

Mexico was hit by the one-two punch of twin storms over the weekend, and the storm that soaked Acapulco on Sunday, Manuel, re-formed into a tropical storm Wednesday, threatening to bring more flooding to the country's northern coast.

With a tropical disturbance over the Yucatan Peninsula headed toward the same Gulf coast hit by Hurricane Ingrid, the country could face another double hit, just it struggles to restore services and evacuate those stranded by last weekend's flooding.

Mexico's federal Civil Protection coordinator, Luis Felipe Puente, said 35,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and authorities raised the death toll across the country to 80.

But the death toll may rise further. Mayor Edilberto Tabares of the township of Atoyac told Milenio television that 18 bodies had been recovered and possibly many more remained buried in a remote mountain village that authorities have not yet been able to reach. Atoyac is a largely rural township about 42 miles west of Acapulco.

In Acapulco itself, gun-toting state police guarded the entrance to a partly flooded Costco store hours after people looted it on one of the city's main boulevards, carting off shopping carts full of food, clothing, and in some cases flat-screen TVs.

Hundreds of people waded through waist-high brown water in the store's parking lot on Wednesday, fishing out anything – cans of food or soda – that looters might have dropped. Others shouted for the now-shuttered store to be re-opened.

"If we can't work, we have to come and get something to eat," said 60-year-old fisherman Anastasio Barrera, as he stood with his wife outside the store. "The city government isn't doing anything for us, and neither is the state government."

With the twin roads from Acapulco to Mexico City closed down, at least 40,000 tourists saw a long holiday beach weekend degenerate into a desperate struggle to get weeping children, elderly parents and even a few damp, bedraggled dogs back home. Thousands of people, some sweating, profusely, waited in line Wednesday outside a shopping mall-convention center that was being used as a shelter and waiting area for flights out.

Two of Mexico's largest airlines were running about two flights an hour from Acapulco's still-flooded international airport, with priority for those with tickets, the elderly and families with young children.

Inside the shopping center, Omar Diaz, a 23-year-old window installer, waited with his wife, their 2-day-old baby and two other children on a foam mattress covered with a blanket. Their home was flooded and the few possessions they were able to save hung in plastic bags around their improvised bed.

His wife, Marisela Diaz, 24, gave birth to daughter Paula Jasmin shortly after Tropical Storm Manuel hit, but was asked to leave a local hospital "because there weren't enough beds," she said.

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