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Americans Trapped in Cabo After Odile Describe Desperation, Danger

Image: Mexico's newest police force, the Gendarmerie federal police, organize the evacuation of tourists after Hurricane Odile devastated the tourist resort city of San Jose de los Cabos, Mexico

Mexico's newest police force, the Gendarmerie federal police, organize the evacuation of tourists after Hurricane Odile devastated the tourist resort city of San Jose de los Cabos, Mexico, on Sept. 18. Authorities said they had flown 5,000 tourists out of the region by Wednesday afternoon. Officials estimated 30,000 travelers were stranded by the storm. Dario Lopez-Mills / AP

Hurricane Odile mangled Mexico’s Los Cabos resort five days ago, and in its wake left a wasteland: Waterlogged hotels, scarce resources and tourists — including hundreds of Americans — desperate for any scrap of reliable information and the fastest flight home.

By Thursday, about 15,000 tourists out of an estimated 30,000 had gotten out of the ravaged resort, Mexican officials said, with a handful of American airlines among those resuming flights. The U.S. military has since gotten involved, and the U.S. State Department said Friday that more than 500 Americans were put on four charter flights home in the past 24 hours.

One military plane carried about 40 Americans from Cabo San Lucas to Los Angeles early Friday, and they were charged $570 each for the ticket out, a defense official told NBC News.

Others, frustrated by the slow pace and worried over the chaos and looting in the storm’s aftermath, didn’t wait for help to arrive.

Heavy looting in hurricane-rattled Cabo San Lucas 0:19

“We were told military was going to come and pick us up from the hotel, but they never did,” Matt Milletto, of Portland, Oregon, told NBC News by telephone from Mexico. “They told us no flights were going out of Cabo. Tourists were panicked because there was no news and no direction. No organized aid. Some military presence, but not a lot of leadership and order.”

Milletto was so desperate to get home that he and his wife hitched a ride on the floor of a minivan, and eventually traveled 300 miles to Loreto, where they’re scheduled to take a flight out Saturday on Alaska Airlines.

“Cabo is in desperation,” Milletto added. “Every building has windows blown out, it’s complete destruction. I’m mostly concerned for the people who live there. People are stealing, people don’t feel safe.”

Alexa Corcoran and her family stood in line for 5 hours in the heat before they could get on a plane out of Cabo San Lucas. Alexa Corcoran

Other Americans who managed to make it out echoed the dire circumstances. San Francisco executive Jim Benton went to Cabo with 35 of his tech company’s top performers for an “all-stars event.” By the end of their hurricane-stricken trip, they called their experience a “life or death version of ‘The Amazing Race’” and “Cabo-geddon.”

Tuesday night — two days after the ferocious Category 3 storm struck — became Benton’s breaking point. They were down to their final day of clean water. Cell service was dead. There were warnings that looters were planning to hit up the hotel.

His group split up, and by Wednesday, he and three others were able to catch the last AirTran/Southwest flight out.

At the crowded and crippled Cabo airport, Benton said, he saw two American officials helping tourists, and was startled by the stark contrast of the Canadian government, which personally dispatched officials to hotels to help its citizens.

Autumn Bremer, of Fort Bragg, California, who was stuck in Cabo with her husband and two young children, wondered the same: “If the Canadians were able to get their people out Tuesday, why weren’t the Americans there?”

With a 1- and 3-year-old to worry about, Bremer was left going from hotel to hotel to find food that they could stockpile and clean water for bathing. They finally made it out of Cabo on Wednesday afternoon before getting an Interjet flight to California via Mexico City.

“It’s a complete humanitarian disaster down there and [U.S. officials] are doing nothing. Where is all the aid? You have Americans there still,” an exasperated Bremer told NBC News before heading home.

Matt Milletto

Alexa Corcoran, a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, had heard rumors that the military was helping Americans out of Cabo San Lucas, but in the chaos it was impossible to separate fact from fiction.

What will stay with her, she said, was the devastation she saw on the way to the airport.

“Everything had been destroyed,” Corcoran said. “I didn’t see one building in town that had been OK. Everything there had been completely damaged.”

Mark Brinda, of Brooklyn, New York, was on his annual fishing trip to the Baja California peninsula with his father and friends when Odile caught them flat-footed. Traveling through Cabo to get to the airport, he saw “very little police presence, people getting robbed. ... 100 percent of the locals are screwed. The houses are wiped out.”

He’s been going to Baja for the past 20 years, but this may be his last, he said: “I will never go back to Mexico.”

NBC News’ Courtney Kube contributed to this report.