A day after Hurricane Otis roared ashore in Acapulco, Mexico, unleashing massive floods and setting off looting, the resort city of nearly one million was without electricity and internet service and had descended into chaos.
Mexico’s Security Minister Rosa Icela Rodriguez said on Thursday that Otis, which hit the coastal city as a Category 5 storm, left at least 27 people dead and another four missing.
The early images and accounts were of extensive devastation, toppled trees and power lines lying in brown floodwaters that in some areas extended for miles. The resulting destruction delayed a comprehensive response by the government, which was still assessing the damage along Mexico’s Pacific coast, and made residents desperate.
Many of the once-sleek beachfront hotels in Acapulco looked like toothless, shattered hulks a day after the storm blew out hundreds — possibly thousands — of windows.
There seemed to be widespread frustration with authorities. While some 10,000 military troops were deployed to the area, they lacked the tools to clean tonnes of mud and fallen trees from the streets. Hundreds of trucks from the government electricity company arrived in Acapulco early Wednesday, but seemed at a loss as to how to restore power, with downed electricity lines lying in feet of mud and water.
WATCH | Hurricane Otis hits Acapulco:
Featured VideoHurricane Otis slammed into Acapulco on Mexico’s Pacific coast early Wednesday as a Category 5 storm — the strongest to ever hit that region.
Jakob Sauczuk was staying with a group of friends at a beachfront hotel when Otis hit. “We laid down on the floor, and some between beds,” Sauczuk said. “We prayed a lot.”
One of his friends showed reporters photos of the windowless, shattered rooms in the hotel. It looked as if someone had put clothes, beds and furniture in a blender, leaving a shredded mass.
Sauczuk complained that his group was given no warning, nor were offered safer shelter, by the hotel.
‘Thankfully the door held’
Pablo Navarro, an auto-parts worker who was in temporary accommodations at a beachfront hotel, thought he might die in his 13th-storey hotel room.
“I took shelter in the bathroom, and thankfully the door held,” said Navarro. “But there were some rooms where the wind blew out the windows and the doors.”
On Wednesday, Navarro stood outside a discount grocery and household goods store near the hotel zone, as hundreds of people wrestled everything from packs of hot dogs and toilet paper to flat-screen TVs out of the store, struggling to push loaded metal shopping carts onto the mud-choked streets.
“This is out of control,” he said.
Isabel de la Cruz, a resident of Acapulco, tried to move a shopping cart loaded with diapers, instant noodles and toilet paper through the mud.
She viewed what she took as a chance to help her family after she lost the tin roof of her home and important documents in the hurricane.
“When is the government ever going to look after the common people?” she said.
Inside one store, National Guard officers allowed looters to take perishable items like food, but made futile efforts to prevent people from taking appliances, even as people outside loaded refrigerators on top of taxis.
It took nearly all day Wednesday for authorities to partially reopen the main highway connecting Acapulco to the state capital, Chilpancingo, and Mexico City. The vital ground link allowed dozens of emergency vehicles, personnel and trucks carrying supplies to reach the battered port.
Acapulco’s commercial and military airports were still too badly damaged to resume flights.
Acapulco’s Diamond Zone, an oceanfront area replete with hotels, restaurants and other tourist attractions, looked to be mostly underwater in drone footage that Foro TV posted online Wednesday afternoon, with boulevards and bridges completely hidden by an enormous lake of brown water.
Large buildings had their walls and roofs partially or completely ripped off. Dislodged solar panels, cars and debris littered the lobby of one severely damaged hotel. People wandered up to their waists in water in some areas, while on less-flooded streets, soldiers shoveled rubble and fallen palm fronds from the pavement.
Wednesday night, the city plunged into darkness. There was no phone service, but some people were able to use satellite phones loaned out by the Red Cross to let family members know they were OK.
Otis took many by surprise on Tuesday when it rapidly strengthened from a tropical storm to a powerful Category 5 as it tore along the coast.