From hoping to hear from loved ones to unburying homes from knee-deep mud to looking for food and supplies, residents of Acapulco, Mexico, have been grappling with the devastating aftermath of the strongest hurricane to hit a large metropolitan area in decades.
“Acapulco is undone,” resident David Campos told Noticias Telemundo in Spanish.
On Friday, thousands remained without electricity or water and residents remained stranded in remote areas with little to no communication. And with people starting to lack some of the most basic resources, many have emptied hurricane-ravaged stores for food and supplies.
Hurricane Otis made landfall in Acapulco as a Category 5 storm early Wednesday, killing at least 27 people and leaving a long path of destruction.
The death toll has remained unchanged since Thursday, Mexican Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval said in a news conference Friday.
At the same time, local media have reported there are unrecovered bodies in the city and hundreds of people continue looking for loved ones they have not heard from since the storm.
On Thursday, Arturo Villalobos was desperately trying to reach his wife and four children under the age of 12. "I'm in another state, I can't do anything," he told Noticias Telemundo. "I just want to know how they are."
Villalobos explained he was worried because the family had been in a part of Acapulco where a canal had overflowed. The night of the hurricane he had been able to stay in contact with his family, but since then he hadn't been able to reach them and it's been two days.
A resident identified only by his first name, Ricardo, told Noticias Telemundo he was looking for a relative, but "we don't even have a cellphone or a photo to show," he said. "We lost everything."
Heavy rains and strong winds from the storm caused flooding and countless landslides, destroying hundreds of homes in some of the poorest communities in the well-known resort city, which saw about 80% of its hotels damaged.
“Even though the death of any person is unfortunate, there weren’t very many,” Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said in the Friday news conference.
The number of missing people has also not changed. It’s still four, according to Sandoval.
“Still, we have to wait to have all the information about the missing people, those who were confirmed dead,” to be able to release their names to the public, López Obrador said.
Cellphone signals are slowly returning since Otis completely cut off communication in the area. Hurricane survivors have begun contacting friends and relatives living in other parts of Mexico and the U.S. using online messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Messenger.
Hurricane survivors in Acapulco have been using online messaging platforms to share photos of flooded neighborhoods as well as tips for finding cellphone signal spots.
Others have been posting asking for information about missing loved ones and sharing lists of names of survivors taking refuge in shelters. One note read: “Lupita, we are okay. I will call you when we have signal.”
'They are alone there'
Paula Romanos, a Texas resident, finally heard from her older parents in Acapulco Thursday morning. She received a WhatsApp message with limited details about their well-being.
"They said they are hurt. I don't know to what degree. The only thing they said is that they are hurt, that their apartment is totally destroyed," and that they lack a good signal, Romanos told Noticias Telemundo. "My dad has Parkinson's. So he needs help. And of course, right now there is no help, there is no one, they are alone there."
The main federal highway in Acapulco has reopened for small vehicles, not heavy trucks, Sandoval said. The road has been inaccessible for days after a massive landslide blocked the way.
While parts of the Acapulco airport were damaged, the runway is in good enough shape to receive planes that will help speed up the evacuation process of hurricane survivors into Mexico City, as well as get aid and needed supplies in and out of Acapulco, Sandoval said.
López Obrador said 1,000 government workers would begin a house-by-house census Friday to determine each family’s needs.
Some 10,000 “packages” of appliances such as refrigerators, stoves and mattresses had already been collected by the government and were ready to distribute to families in need.
Planes carrying medical personnel will be landing at Acapulco’s commercial airport. The city’s military air base will receive material aid flights.
Hundreds of buses will continue to evacuate residents and stranded tourists.
The bleak panorama had some residents estimating it would take a year for Acapulco to recover. But Antonio Esparza was one of the few optimistic residents who believe that "this is going to improve Acapulco."
“It will force the government to pay attention,” he said.
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