Hurricane Otis kills 3 foreigners among 45 dead in Acapulco as search for bodies continues


MEXICO CITY (AP) — Officials in Mexico said Monday that three foreign residents were among at least 45 people killed when Hurricane Otis hit the resort city of Acapulco last week.

Local prosecutors say the dead included one American, one Canadian and one from England, adding that they had been living in Acapulco for some time and were not considered tourists.

Meanwhile, the Navy said the search effort will now focus on finding possible bodies among the 29 boats known to have sunk in Acapulco Bay the night the hurricane hit.

Navy Secretary Adm. José Rafael Ojeda said the boats have been located and authorities are waiting for a ship equipped with a crane to arrive later Monday to lift the wrecks out of the water.

There had been continuing reports that some crew members had still been aboard boats in the bay and were missing.

Acapulco is known for both its abundance of expensive yachts, as well as cheap tour boats that carry tourists around the bay.

“As of now we know of 29 craft that have sunk,” Ojeda said. “A ship with a crane is going to arrive to lift the boats … we already know where they are.” He said they hoped not to find “any drowned people there”

Otis roared ashore early Wednesday with devastating 165 mph (266 kph) winds after strengthening so rapidly that people had little time to prepare.

Local residents reported that some crews had either chosen or been ordered to stay aboard to guard their craft.

The government reported Sunday that at least 48 people died when Category 5 Hurricane Otis slammed into Mexico’s southern Pacific coast, most of them in Acapulco.

Mexico’s civil defense agency said in a statement that 43 of the dead were in the resort city of Acapulco and five in the nearby township of Coyuca de Benitez.

Guerrero state’s governor created some confusion Monday by reporting 45 dead, but it was unclear if she was citing the toll only for Acapulco or the whole state. Gov. Evelyn Salgado did say, however, that the number of those missing had risen to 47.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Saturday that his opponents are trying to inflate the toll to damage him politically, but with hundreds of families still awaiting word from loved ones, it was likely to keep rising.

In Acapulco, families held funerals for the dead on Sunday and continued the search for essentials while government workers and volunteers cleared streets clogged with muck and debris left by the hurricane.

Katy Barrera, 30, said Sunday that her aunt’s family got buried under a landslide when tons of mud and rock tumbled down onto their home. Her aunt’s body was found with the remains of their three children ranging in age from 2 to 21. Her uncle was still missing. Separately, Barrera’s own mother and brother also remained missing.

“The water came in with the rocks, the mud and totally buried them,” Barrera, who was standing outside a local morgue, said of her aunt’s family.

On Sunday, authorities released the bodies of her aunt and the two youngest children to relatives. Bodies in white bags were loaded into open caskets in the back of hearses. The eldest daughter had already been buried the day before.

As she prepared to lay her relatives to rest, Barrera — who had hardly even had a chance to search for her own mother and brother — expressed desperation and frustration at the aid and personnel she had begun seeing in tourist areas of the city but not in their neighborhood high on a mountainside hit by landslides.

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

During a short time outside the morgue Sunday morning, at least a half-dozen families arrived, some looking for relatives; others identifying bodies and some giving statements to authorities.

The somber convoys of hearses and relatives crossed much of the battered Acapulco en route to the cemetery, passing ransacked stores, streets strewn with debris and soldiers cutting away fallen trees.

Small fishing boat owner Kristian Vera said Saturday that some of the people who died were either fishermen caring for their boats or yacht captains who were told by their owners to make sure their boats were OK when Otis was approaching as a tropical storm.

Officials from the national electric company promised to have power restored in all of Acapulco by late Tuesday, a full week after the hurricane hit.

Aid has been slow to arrive. The storm’s destruction cut off the city of nearly 1 million people for the first day, and because Otis had intensified so quickly on Tuesday little to nothing had been staged in advance.

The federal civil defense agency tallied 220,000 homes that were damaged by the hurricane, which blew out the windows and walls of some high-rise hotels and ripped the tin roofs off thousands of homes.

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