ACAPULCO, Mexico (AP) — More resources are arriving on Mexico’s battered Pacific coast, and the death toll from Hurricane Otis is growing as searchers recover more bodies from Acapulco’s harbor and under fallen trees and other storm debris.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Saturday that his opponents are trying to inflate the toll to damage him politically, but few expect the latest mark of 39 dead to be where it stops. Hundreds of families are still awaiting word from loved ones.
Otis roared ashore early Wednesday with devastating 165 mph (266 kph) winds after strengthening so rapidly that people had little time to prepare.
Kristian Vera stood on an Acapulco beach Saturday looking out toward dozens of sunken boats, including three of her own, all marked by floating buoys or just poking out of the water.
Despite losing her livelihood in Otis’ brutal pass through Mexico’s over Pacific coast, the 44-year-old fisher felt fortunate. Earlier in the day, she watched a body pulled from the water and saw families coming and going, looking for their loved ones.
Mexican authorities raised Otis’ official toll to 39 dead and 10 missing Saturday. But Vera and others suggested that number will likely grow, in part because of the number of people who rode out on boats during what had started as a tropical storm and in just 12 hours powered up into a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane.
Vera took turns with four others swimming out with empty gas jugs for flotation to try to raise their sunken boats from the shallow harbor.
Leaning against a small wooden fishing boat like her own, tipped on its side on a beach strewn with trash and fallen trees, she explained that some of the people who died were either fishers caring for their boats or yacht captains who were told by their owners that they needed to make sure their boats were OK when Otis was still a tropical storm.
“That night I was so worried because I live off of this, it’s how I feed my kids,” Vera said. “But when I began to feel how strong the wind was, I said, ‘Tomorrow I won’t have a boat, but God willing Acapulco will see another day.’”
Earlier Saturday, Security Secretary Rosa Icela Rodríguez said in a recorded video message with López Obrador posted to the platform X that the probable cause of death for the 39 was “suffocation by submersion.” She said that the victims had not yet been identified and that investigations continued.
The new death toll was an increase of 12 over the initial tally of 27 announced Thursday. But the storm’s human toll was becoming a point of contention. Rodríguez also said the number of missing rose to 10.
In Acapulco, government workers and volunteers cleared streets, gas station lines wrapped around the block for what fuel was to be had, and some lucky families found food essentials as a more organized relief operation took shape four days after the storm hit.
Military personnel and volunteers worked along Acapulco’s main tourist strip. They sliced through fallen palm trees and metal signs. Cellphone signals were partially recovered near some of the most luxurious hotels, and authorities placed a charging station for people to charge their phones.
But on the periphery of the city, neighborhoods remained in total chaos. The government presence found in the touristic center was not visible in other areas. With no signal, no water and no food, people young and old trudged through foot-deep mud and flooded streets to get to large warehouses someone had found full of food. They carried away bags of food and liquids.
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 it intensified so quickly on Tuesday little to nothing had been staged in advance.
Authorities had the difficult task of searching for the dead and missing.
One military officer, who did not want to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to media, said that searchers in his area had found at least six bodies and that his own unit had found one. It was difficult to find bodies because they were often covered in trees and other debris, he said.
Most families anxiously hunted for water, with some saying they were rationing their supplies. The municipal water system was out because its pumps had no power.
Officials said the military presence would grow to 15,000 in the area, and López Obrador called on the armed forces to set up checkpoints in the city to avoid robberies.
The president said the national electric company told him that service had been restored to 55% of customers in the affected area but that more than 200,000 homes and businesses remained without power.
The federal civil defense agency tallied 220,000 homes that were damaged by the storm, he said.
Follow AP’s climate coverage at: https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment
Associated Press writer Fabiola Sánchez in Mexico City contributed to this report.