The Mexican government has launched a concerted effort to aid the beleaguered coastal city of Acapulco, which continues to grapple with the aftermath of Hurricane Otis which inflicted substantial casualties and destruction.
Devastation Unleashed by Hurricane Otis
Last Wednesday, Hurricane Otis, classified as a Category 5 storm, barreled through Acapulco, wreaking havoc with wind speeds of 165 mph (266 kph). The tempestuous hurricane caused extensive damage, downing power lines and disrupting communications, rendering the city, with its nearly 900,000 residents, effectively isolated.
Desperation and Looting Grips Acapulco
In the wake of Otis, a sense of desperation enveloped the city as essential resources such as food, water, and gasoline became scarce. This scarcity prompted outbreaks of looting, compounding the city’s predicament. The government has reported that the hurricane resulted in the tragic loss of 48 lives, with an additional six individuals still unaccounted for. It’s worth noting that the governor of Guerrero, the state in which Acapulco is located, initially cited 36 missing persons. Just a day prior, the death toll stood at 39, with 10 individuals reported missing.
Government Mobilizes for Recovery
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador expressed his commitment to the city’s recovery, noting that most of his cabinet was either already in Acapulco or en route. Thousands of soldiers and police officers were dispatched to the city to assist in these efforts. In a video shared on social media, President López Obrador declared, “We’re going to get Acapulco back on its feet, starting with its people.”
Widespread Destruction and Estimated Costs
As Acapulco surveyed the damage, the shoreline was littered with the wreckage of boats, with shattered yachts and dinghies piled up on the shore. Captain Alejandro Cortez recounted how he and his crew abandoned their yacht as the hurricane intensified, leaving it to the mercy of the tempest. He emphasized that there are still many missing individuals, highlighting the ongoing search and rescue operations.
The estimated cost of the damage wrought by the hurricane could soar as high as $15 billion. President López Obrador revealed that the ministers of finance and the economy would visit Acapulco on Monday, and he extended an invitation to the Mexican central bank governor to join them.
Residents Struggle for Basic Necessities
Residents in the flooded areas expressed frustration over the lack of government assistance, as many struggled to find basic necessities like food and water. Blanca Estela Morales, a 52-year-old wheelchair-bound resident staying in a government-run shelter, lamented her situation, saying, “I was cleaned out, left with nothing. This is really hard for me — we sleep on the floor, we don’t have water to wash with.”
Political Controversy Amidst the Crisis
The catastrophe struck Acapulco just seven months before Mexico’s next presidential election, and President López Obrador faced accusations of downplaying the gravity of the disaster. Critics alleged that his administration sought to exploit the situation for political gain. Former President Felipe Calderón, a longstanding adversary of López Obrador, accused the government of trying to rebrand private aid contributions as “government” donations.
Massive Deployment of Armed Forces
Mexico has deployed approximately 17,000 members of the armed forces to maintain order and facilitate the distribution of essential supplies in Acapulco, the largest city in Guerrero. The cleanup and recovery process is expected to be protracted, with reports indicating that Hurricane Otis damaged 273,844 homes in Guerrero, surpassing the number of homes recorded in Acapulco in 2020 (223,924). Furthermore, 600 hotels and condominiums have been affected, and one community remains cut off due to an overflowing river.
Challenges in Cleanup and Recovery
Governor Evelyn Salgado of Guerrero reported that electricity has been restored to 58% of Acapulco, and officials have assessed the damage to 10,000 families in the area. President López Obrador expressed his optimism that electricity would be fully restored in the city by Tuesday.
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In response to the concerns about looting, Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval noted that approximately 5,000 National Guard members would be assigned to enhance security. Additionally, the armed forces have taken control of gas stations to prevent further incidents, as President López Obrador emphasized the importance of this measure.