At least 27 people were killed and four remain missing after Hurricane Otis ripped through the beach resort city of Acapulco, leveling homes and hotels, submerging cars and cutting off communications.
The extent of the damage from the category 5 storm, which struck Mexico on Thursday with winds of 165mph, has started to become clear as thousands of first responders and military officers began to assess the damages. Nearly 8,400 members of Mexico’s army, air force and national guard were deployed to assist in cleanup efforts, the defense ministry said.
“What Acapulco suffered was really disastrous,” said Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the president, at a news conference in Mexico City after making a brief visit to the disaster area. Parts of Acapulco, a city of nearly 900,000 and a major tourist destination that attracts tourists from around the world, remained without power or communication, he said.
Otis was one of the most powerful storms to have ever hit the country, officials said. It shocked forecasters and scientists as it rapidly intensified off the Pacific coast while passing through warm waters, tearing up streets and scattering debris as it made landfall.
Hundreds of patients are now being evacuated from destroyed hospitals to safer areas, officials said.
As cellphone signals began to return to some parts of the city, residents organized themselves with the help of friends and relatives living in other parts of Mexico and the US. They joined together by neighborhood using online messaging platforms like WhatsApp. On Thursday there were some 1,000 people in 40 chats.
They shared photos of flooded neighborhoods and tips for finding cellphone signals, while asking for information about loved ones they had not heard from. When someone joins from a neighborhood, they’re asked by people outside the city to look for other residents there.
Juan Pablo Lopez, 26, had been talking to his wife when their call was cut off early Wednesday as Otis made landfall. She had returned to Acapulco to be with her family and give birth to their son a month ago. Lopez was at home in Cancún.
“I’m very worried for my newborn son,” he said.
With no information coming in on Wednesday, he created an online chat with friends and family from Guerrero state, where Acapulco is the largest city. He also invited friends who had emigrated to the US and asked them to add their local contacts.
The hurricane’s dramatic acceleration, fueled by a surge of ocean warmth, has raised alarm about the impacts of the climate crisis on destructive storms. Studies have found that the rapid intensification of storms has become more common in a warming world. Otis’s wind speeds increased by about 110mph within just 24 hours – giving communities little time to prepare.
In Acapulco, the biggest city in the Mexican state of Guerrero, hotels were filled with tourists as well as the attendees of an international mining convention. Evelyn Sagaldo, the governor of Guerrero, said 80% of the city’s hotels had been hit by the storm.
It took nearly all day on Wednesday for authorities to partly 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, though López Obrador said the plan was to establish an air bridge to move in resources.