Chaos as floods submerge Mexico's Acapulco, death toll rises
Author: Alberto Fajardo and Luis Enrique Martinez
A dead pig lies among debris on a beach in Acapulco September 17, 2013.
Photo: Jacobo Garcia
Mexico's famous beach resort of Acapulco was in chaos on Tuesday as hotels rationed food for thousands of stranded tourists and floodwaters swallowed homes and cars after some of the most damaging storms in decades killed at least 55 people across the country.
Television footage showed Acapulco's international airport terminal waist deep in water and workers wading out to escape floods that have prevented some 40,000 visitors from leaving and blocked one of the main access routes to the city with mud.
A torrential, three-day downpour cut off several roads into the Pacific resort of 750,000 people, which was a magnet for Hollywood stars in its heyday, but had the highest murder rate in Mexico last year amid a surge in drug gang violence.
The flooding has disrupted deliveries of supplies, piling fresh misery on a city heavily dependent on tourist spending. The entrance to a main hillside tunnel into Acapulco was completely blocked with mud.
The rains were spawned by two major storms that converged on Mexico from the Pacific and the Gulf, triggering flash floods that washed away homes and landslides in eastern Mexico.
Tropical Depression Manuel had faded but was strengthening again on the Pacific coast on Tuesday, moving northwest toward the Baja California peninsula. It was expected to become a Tropical Storm again late on Tuesday or early Wednesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Much of Acapulco's upscale Diamante district was flooded, and tourists were unable to take cash out of bank machines due to lack of power. Fast food outlets were also without power, and insisted on payment in cash.
"I had to go to a pawn shop to leave some jewelry to get money to be able to eat and pay for accommodation," said Cristina Dominguez Navarro, who rented an apartment in Acapulco with her family.
"We came with just enough money for three days and now we have been here for five," she said. "I don't know what we'll do if they don't open the motorway soon."
Some large hotels offered stranded guests a free night of accommodation. But conditions were tough.
"They've started to ration food here," said Pedro de la Torre, a 53-year-old graphic designer from Mexico City who was stranded in a hotel in Acapulco. "People are starting to get annoyed. I lost two cars, total write-offs."
Outside the hotel, guests waded to their waterlogged vehicles in the hope of recovering whatever they could.
Since the weekend, the rains have killed at least 55 people in the states of Veracruz, Guerrero, Puebla, Hidalgo, Michoacan and Oaxaca, according to regional emergency services.
Guerrero, which is home to Acapulco, was the hardest hit with at least 34 people killed in the state, emergency services said. Some streets in the state capital if Chilpancingo became rivers of mud and its mayor, Mario Moreno, said the city had "collapsed."
"The panorama is one of devastation," said Alejandro Hernandez, a 40-year-old landscape gardener on vacation from Mexico City, holed up in an Acapulco hotel with his wife and 3-year-old daughter.
"The hotel is no longer functioning as a business. The staff is starting to leave. They have closed the front desk, switched off the computers," he said. "All they have done is caused panic by saying they are going to start rationing, turn off power and cut water."
Hundreds of people lined up outside supermarkets in Acapulco waiting to buy food. Store shelves were empty in some other areas of Guerrero state as residents stocked up and town mayors called on the government to send emergency supplies.
President Enrique Pena Nieto said via Twitter he had ordered a "house by house" census in Guerrero and told the federal transport ministry to establish an air bridge to Mexico City.
Officials had considered using the airfield in nearby Pie de la Cuesta to restart flights but airline officials said services started to resume from the city's airport after rains abated.
The chaos began late last week when tropical storms Ingrid and Manuel converged from the Atlantic and the Pacific, drenching Mexico in massive rainfall that has hit around two thirds of the country, according to the interior ministry.
Though both of the storms have dissipated, rain is still falling in much of country and more than 1 million people have so far been affected by flooding.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said rain caused by the remnants of Ingrid could still produce life-threatening floods and mud slides in a large part of eastern Mexico.
Landslides have buried homes and a bus in the eastern state of Veracruz. Thousands were evacuated from flooded areas, some by helicopter, and taken to shelters.
State oil monopoly Pemex evacuated three oil platforms and halted drilling at some wells. A spokesman for the company said output and exports had not been affected.
The rain has caused more than 5 billion pesos ($387 million) in damage in the state of Guerrero, the local government said.
($1 = 12.92 Mexican pesos)
(Additional reporting by Simon Gardner, Anahi Rama and Ana Isabel Martinez.; Writing by Dave Graham; editing by Kieran Murray and Christopher Wilson)