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Mexico floods kill 80, thousands try to escape cut-off Acapulco

By Michael Weissenstein

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 01:07 p.m. HST, Sep 18, 2013


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

Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said federal authorities had reached the cutoff village of La Pintada by helicopter and had airlifted out 35 residents, four of whom were seriously injured in the slide. Officials have not yet seen any bodies, he said, despite reports from people in the area that at least 18 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 Edilberto Tabares of the township of Atoyac told Milenio television that 18 bodies had been recovered and possibly many more remained buried in the remote mountain village. Atoyac, a largely rural township about 42 miles 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.

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 Tropical Storm Manuel hit residents and visitors with full force as Mexico's 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."

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 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 Hurricane Ingrid, which hit the Gulf coast over the weekend.

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 used 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 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 to use 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 5,300 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 the ability 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."

____

E. Eduardo Castillo and Mark Stevenson contributed to this report.






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