Hurricane Otis death toll rises to 48 with 36 people still missing

At least 36 people remain missing in Guerrero State

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Monday 30 October 2023 19:23 GMT
Acapulco left decimated after Hurricane Otis

The death toll has risen to 48 after Hurricane Otis slammed into Mexico’s coastal city of Acapulco with little warning last week.

Some 43 peopled died in Acapulco and five deaths were reported in the smaller town of Coyuca de Benitez, authorities said. At least 36 people were still missing, according to Guerrero state’s governor Evelyn Salgado Pineda.

The number of fatalities increased this weekend as the sheer scale of the destruction became clear from Otis, the strongest-ever storm to make landfall on Mexico’s west coast with 165mph winds and torrential downpours.

The hurricane underwent explosive intensification from Category 1 to Category 5 in just 12 hours, catching forecasters by surprise. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) described it as a “nightmare scenario” for the region.

Alexa Reza was on vacation at an ocean-facing hotel when the hurricane made landfall shortly after midnight last Wednesday.

“While we took shelter, more people arrived and thanks to them we knew that the situation was critical outside,” Ms Reza told The Independent.

“Many people had their roofs fall on them, others were crushed by palm trees. The government never warned of the hurricane.”

Damaged vehicles and downed trees in Acapulco after Hurricane Otis slammed into the coastal city last week

Throughout the weekend, families held funerals for loved ones. Search efforts continue for survivors as bodies were pulled from collapsed buildings and the ocean.

Efforts have begun in the massive clean-up in Acapulco, home to around 1 million people, where an early estimate put damages at $10bn.

Approximately 80 per cent of the city’s hotels were damaged by the storm, according to president of the Mexican Hotel Association, Miguel Angel Fong. Apartment buildings and hotels had hundreds of windows blown out, facades stripped off, ruined interiors and collapsed ceilings.

Photos and videos showed a jumble of smashed yachts in the marina while streets were filled with downed power lines and palm streets, thick mud and debris. Landslides have buried small homes under tons of rocks and earth in working-class hillside neighbourhoods.

Acapulco’s beach area suffered massive damage from Category 5 Hurricane Otis

Aid has slowly trickled into Acapulco which remains short on water, fuel and food. Guerrero’s governor said that power had been restored to more than half the city, and that 21 tankers were distributing water.

While there was some looting of expensive items, many people were searching stores for essentials like food and toilet paper.

Frustrations were rising at the government response which some locals saw as centered on the tourist areas of Acapulco and not in poorer communities.

Katy Barrera, 30, lost four family members including young children when their family home was buried by a landslide. Her mother and brother are still missing, she told The Associated Press.

People wait in line with containers to buy gasoline in Acapulco

“There are many, many people here at the (morgue) that are entire families, families of six, families of four, even eight people,” she told the AP. “I want to ask authorities not to lie … there are a lot of people who are arriving dead.”

Social media was awash in posts from people seeking information about missing loved ones.

The disaster has renewed criticism of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador whose policies had led to the cancellation of the country’s Fund for Natural Disasters, known as Fonden, in 2021.

Mr López Obrador furiously accused political opponents of trying to inflate the damage in order to attack him. He has insisted the entire public budget will support the recovery in Guerrero State.

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