The Herald Bulletin

September 18, 2013

Manuel a hurricane after deadly Mexico flooding


The Associated Press

ACAPULCO, Mexico — The toll from devastating twin storms climbed to 80 on Wednesday as isolated areas reported deaths and damage to the outside world, and Mexican officials said that a massive landslide in the mountains north of Acapulco could drive the number of confirmed dead even higher.

The storm that devastated the Pacific resort over the weekend regained strength Wednesday and became Hurricane Manuel, taking a route that could see it make landfall on Mexico's northwestern coast overnight. It would be a third blow to a country still reeling from the one-two punch of Manuel's first landfall and Hurricane Ingrid on Mexico's eastern coast.

Sinaloa state civil protection authorities said some areas were already flooding in the towns of Escuinapa, El Rosario and Mazatlan. At least 60 families were evacuated from the fishing village of Yameto, in the Sinaloan town of Navolato, authorities said. The affected area is a sparsely populated stretch of fishing villages.

Outside Acapulco, federal authorities reached the cutoff village of La Pintada by helicopter and airlifted out 35 residents, four of whom were seriously injured in the slide, said Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong. Officials have not yet seen any bodies, he said, despite reports from people in the area that at least 15 people had been killed.

"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." Osorio Chong told local media that "this is a very powerful landslide; very big ... You can see that it hit a lot of houses."

Mayor Ediberto Tabares of the township of Atoyac told Milenio television late Wednesday that 15 bodies had been recovered and possibly many more remained buried in the remote mountain village. Tabares told the same television station earlier in the day that 18 bodies had been found.

Atoyac, a largely rural township about 42 miles (70 kilometers) west of Acapulco, is accessible only by a highway broken multiple times by landslides and flooding.

Ricardo de la Cruz, a spokesman for the federal Department of Civil Protection, said the death toll had risen to 80 from 60 earlier in the day, although he did not provide details of the reports that drove it up. The 80 total does not include the 15 reported deaths in Atoyac, which have not been confirmed by federal authorities.

In Acapulco, three days of Biblical rain and leaden skies evaporated into broiling late-summer sunshine that roasted thousands of furious tourists trying vainly to escape the city, and hundreds of thousands of residents returning to homes devastated by reeking tides of brown floodwater.

The depth of the destruction wreaked by Manuel, which first hit Mexico Sunday as a tropical storm, was highlighted when the transportation secretary said it would be Friday at the earliest before authorities cleared the parallel highways that connect this bayside resort to Mexico City and the rest of the world.

Hundreds of residents of Acapulco's poor outlying areas slogged through waist-high water to pound on the closed shutters of a looted Costco, desperate for food, drinking water and other basics.

Many paused and fished in the murky waters for anything of value piling waterlogged clothing and empty aluminum cans into plastic bags.

"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."

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Wednesday evening that Manuel's eyewall was now nearing the Pacific Coast of Mexico.

Forecasters said the deadly storm had top sustained winds of 75 mph (115 kph) and was centered about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of the western Mexican community of Altata.

The center also says Manuel is moving north at 5 mph (7 kph) and a hurricane warning is in effect from La Cruz to Topolobampo in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.

With a tropical disturbance over the Yucatan Peninsula headed toward Mexico's Gulf coast, the country could face another double hit as it struggles to restore services and evacuate those stranded by flooding from Manuel and Ingrid, which hit the Gulf coast.

Mexico's federal Civil Protection coordinator, Luis Felipe Puente, said 35,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.

Elsewhere in the verdant coastal countryside of the southern state of Guerrero, residents turned motorboats into improvised ferries, shuttling passengers, boxes of fruit and jugs of water across rivers that surged and ripped bridges from their foundations over the weekend. Outside the town of Lomas de Chapultepec, the Papagayo River surged more than 30 feet (9 meters) during the peak of Manuel's flooding, overturning a bridge that stretched hundreds of feet across the mouth of the river.

In Acapulco's upscale Diamond Zone, the military commandeered a commercial center for tourists trying to get onto one of the military or commercial flights that remained the only way out of the city. Thousands lined up outside the mall's locked gates, begging for a seat on a military seat or demanding that airline Aeromexico honor a previously purchased ticket.

"We don't even have money left to buy water," said Tayde Sanchez Morales, a retired electric company worker from the city of Puebla. "The hotel threw us out and we're going to stay here and sleep here until they throw us out of here."

A lucky few held up ransacked beach umbrellas against the sun. Temperatures were in the mid-80s but felt far hotter. Dozens of others collapsed in some of the few spots of shade, joined there by panting stray neighborhood dogs. Soldiers wandered through the crowds offering lollipops, an offer many greeted with angry disbelief.

"Forty-eight hours without electricity, no running water and now we can't get home," said Catalina Clave, 46, who works at the Mexico City stock exchange. "Now all I ask for is some shade and some information."

Mexico's federal transportation secretary said that at least 8,000 people had been flown out of the city on 49 flights by Wednesday afternoon, a fraction of the 40,000 to 60,000 tourists estimated to be stranded in the city.

For many, the lack of clear information was more infuriating than the inability to get home.

"You call and they say come here," said Patricia Flores, a 35-year-old tourist from the state of Tabasco. "You come here and they say 'call the call center.' And the call center doesn't answer."

In the low-lying neighborhood of Colosio, residents drove through knee-high brown water to reach homes whose bottom floors were glazed in inches of brown sediment.

"We're devastated," said Jorge Luis Pacheco Meijia, a 26-year-old English professor, pausing as he piled sodden, soiled furniture and appliances outside his house. "All the time you spend working from dusk 'til dawn, everything's lost."