Created on Wednesday, 18 September 2013 Written by MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN, Associated Press
ACAPULCO, Mexico (AP) — Desperation mounted Wednesday in the cut-off resort of Acapulco, where residents looted a store and thousands of exhausted, despondent tourists waited to be ferried out by air. The death toll in massive flooding in southern and central Mexico rose to 57.
Mexico was hit by the one-two punch of twin storms over the weekend, and the storm that soaked Acapulco on Sunday — Manuel —reformed into a tropical storm Wednesday as it swirled slowly off the Pacific coast on a path that that would take it over the resort of La Paz, on the Baja California peninsula, over the weekend.
With a tropical disturbance over the Yucatan Peninsula headed toward the same Gulf coast hit by Hurricane Ingrid, the country could face another double hit, just it struggles to restore services and evacuate those stranded by last weekend's flooding.
Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said 57 had been killed nationwide.
In Acapulco, gun-toting state police guarded the entrance to a partly flooded Costco store hours after people looted it on one of the city's main boulevards, carting off shopping carts full of food, clothing, and in some cases flat-screen TVs.
Hundreds of people waded through waist-high brown water in the store's parking lot on Wednesday, fishing out anything — cans of food or soda — that looters might have dropped. Others shouted for the now-shuttered store to be re-opened.
"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."
With the twin roads from Acapulco to Mexico City closed down, at least 40,000 tourists saw a long holiday beach weekend degenerate into a desperate struggle to get weeping children, elderly parents and even a few damp, bedraggled dogs back home. Thousands of people, some sweating, profusely, waited in line Wednesday outside a shopping mall-convention center that was being used as a shelter and waiting area for flights out.
Two of Mexico's largest airlines were running about two flights an hour from Acapulco's still-flooded international airport, with priority for those with tickets, the elderly and families with young children.
Inside the shopping center, Omar Diaz, a 23-year-old window installer, waited with his wife, their 2-day-old baby and two other children on a foam mattress covered with a blanket. Their home was flooded and the few possessions they were able to save hung in plastic bags around their improvised bed.
His wife, Marisela Diaz, 24, gave birth to daughter Paula Jasmin shortly after Tropical Storm Manuel hit, but was asked to leave a local hospital "because there weren't enough beds," she said.
"We lost everything, our house, our bed, the fans, the refrigerator, the television," said Omar, but Marisela was just happy just to be safe with her newborn. "We're good here," she said.
Outside, those waiting in the enormous lines for an airplane ticket out weren't so lucky; they sweltered in the sun that had re-appeared after the storm.
Catalina Clave, 46, who works at the Mexico City stock exchange, sweated in the humid heat along with her husband and a group of friends who had been vacationing in Acapulco. Their excruciating wait had already stretched for two days.
"Forty-eight hours without electricity, no running water and now we can't get home," Clave said. "Now all I ask for is some shade and some information."
The government has promised to reopen the roads between Acapulco and Mexico City, but they were blocked by dozens of mudslides, rocks and collapsed tunnels, and the first provisional way out won't be ready for days, officials predict.
Some cash machines along Acapulco's coastal boulevard were low on bills, but most of the city's tourist zone appeared back to normal Wednesday, with roads clear, restaurants and hotels open and brightly lit and tourists strolling along the bay in an attempt to recover some of the leisure time lost to three days of incessant rains.
Gavin McLoughlin, 27, another teacher at Mexico City's Greengates School, said he went to Acapulco on a late-night bus Thursday with about 30 other teachers at the school, many of whom are in their 20s.
"We had no idea of the weather," the Englishman said. "We knew there was a hurricane on the other side but not this side."
City officials said about 23,000 homes, mostly on Acapulco's outskirts, were without electricity and water. Stores were nearly emptied by residents who rushed to stock up on basic goods. Landslides and flooding damaged an unknown number of homes.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Manuel was centered about 90 miles (145 kilometers) west of the port city of Mazatlan, with winds of 40 mph (65 kph), and was on a slow path that would take it to the southern Baja California peninsula, over the weekend.