Published Oct 28, 2023 02:37PM ET Updated Oct 28, 2023 11:51PM ET
© Reuters. A view shows a damaged building, in the aftermath of Hurricane Otis, in Acapulco, Mexico, October 27, 2023. REUTERS/Quetzalli Nicte-Ha
By Quetzalli Nicte-Ha and Jose Cortes
ACAPULCO, Mexico (Reuters) -The death toll from a devastating hurricane this week in the Mexican beach resort of Acapulco has risen to 39, the government said on Saturday, as President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador accused his opponents of exaggerating the scale of the disaster.
Hurricane Otis pounded Acapulco with winds of 165 miles per hour (266 kmph) on Wednesday, flooding the city, tearing roofs from homes, stores and hotels, submerging vehicles, and severing communications as well as road and air connections.
The government, which previously reported 27 deaths with four others missing, has so far released little information about the dead and injured. Looting has continued and residents in hard-hit neighborhoods, struggling to find food and water, have accused the government of not delivering sufficient aid.
Lopez Obrador on Saturday issued a 24-minute video on social media to update the country on the situation. He devoted much of it to attacking critics he accused of trying to exploit the situation ahead of next year’s presidential election.
“They circle like vultures, they don’t care about people’s pain, they want to hurt us, for there to have been lots of deaths,” he said.
Lopez Obrador, 69, said media outlets seeking to smear his government had exaggerated the toll, but that Security Minister Rosa Icela Rodriguez would provide an update on casualties “without lying.”
“Let her tell us … how many people have really lost their lives so far,” he said, adding his administration was doing more than any government had “ever done” to handle the aftermath.
Rodriguez said the victims were believed to have drowned due to the Category 5 storm and that 10 people were unaccounted for.
On Saturday afternoon, rescue teams aboard two inflatable red boats searched the Acapulco bay for drowning victims. They returned to shore with three bodies wrapped in black bags.
Investigators briefly unzipped the bags to photograph the victims.
Some officials have privately expressed concern that the number of fatalities could rise. The dead were 29 men and 10 women, the government said, citing figures from Guerrero, Acapulco’s home state.
It said more than 220,000 homes and 80% of the hotel sector have been affected, and over 513,000 people lost power.
In the Renacimiento neighborhood, residents padded through streets flooded with murky brown water as high as ankle-level, and lamented the lack of aid.
“The government hasn’t given us any help, not even hope,” said Apolonio Maldonado, lifting his feet from the water to show deep red cuts on his shins. “They haven’t left any food, or even mattresses or cots.”
Also trudging through a flooded street, Martha Villanueva covered her mouth with her hand as she spoke through sobs: “We want help. We lost everything in the water.”
The cost of devastation left by Otis has been estimated at billions of dollars, and over 8,000 armed forces members were sent to help the stricken port recover.
Mexican authorities said Otis was the most powerful storm ever to strike Mexico’s Pacific coast. It caught forecasters by surprise, gathering strength with unexpected speed before it came ashore, and surpassed initial predictions.