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Friday, February 23, 2024
Feb. 23, 2024

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Hurricane Otis rapidly strengthens off Mexico’s Pacific coast as it heads toward Acapulco

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ACAPULCO, Mexico (AP) — After ripping through Mexico’s southern Pacific coast early Wednesday, Hurricane Otis weakened from a Category 5 hurricane to a strong Category 2 storm, dousing the steep mountains of the state of Guerrero and leaving a trail of damage in its main city, Acapulco.

As dawn broke over Acapulco, photos and video shared by local media show the walls of buildings ripped off, flooded hotel rooms with collapsed ceilings, and rubble and downed trees lining the streets. Persistent rain and flooding made it difficult to move.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador reported in a morning press briefing on Wednesday that in Guerrero the areas of Costa Grande, Acapulco and Técpan were all “hit hard” by Otis. He reported that the storm caused property damage, landslides and obstructed roads, but said he had no information so far on if Otis had claimed any lives.

Communications with the area have been “completely lost,” López Obrador said.

The president added that damages to the local military airport has made it hard for authorities to access the region, and said high-ranking members of his government would travel to Guerrero to head up operations.

Otis was about 60 miles (100 kilometers) north-northwest of Acapulco with its maximum sustained winds decreasing to 110 mph (175 kph) and moving at 10 mph (17 kph). The storm’s center is expected to move farther inland over southern Mexico through Wednesday night.

The 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25 centimeters) of rain forecast, with as much as 15 inches (38 centimeters) possible in some areas, continued to raise the threat of landslides and floods on Wedesday.

A long convoy of trucks from the national electric company moved through the Guerrero state capital, Chilpancingo, before dawn Wednesday toward Acapulco.

Otis had strengthened rapidly, going from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane in 12 hours Tuesday. Residents of Guerrero’s coast scrambled to prepare, but the storm’s sudden intensity appeared to catch many off guard.

“We’re on maximum alert,” Acapulco Mayor Abelina López said Tuesday night as she urged residents to hunker down at home or move to the city’s shelters.

Videos from hotel guests in Acapulco posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, as the storm came ashore showed blinding horizontal rain and howling winds.

In one, white towels danced high above a hotel’s cavernous courtyard like sheets of paper and bed mattresses trembled on balconies, apparently an effort to blunt the storm’s winds. Another showed wind and rain howling unimpeded down hotel hallways. While in still another, a family huddled inside a hotel room shower to escape breaking windows and fierce wind.

Otis is stronger than Hurricane Pauline that hit Acapulco in 1997, López said. Pauline destroyed swaths of the city and killed more than 200 people. Hundreds of others were injured in flooding and mudslides.

Between the internationally known resorts of Acapulco and Zihuatanejo are two dozen small towns and villages perched between the mountains and the ocean.

Otis’ arrival came just days after Hurricane Norma struck the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula to the north.

Acapulco is a city of nearly 1 million people at the foot of steep mountains. Luxury homes and slums alike cover the city’s hillsides with views of the glistening Pacific. The city had opened two dozen shelters in the hours before Otis made landfall.

Guerrero is one of Mexico’s most impoverished and violent states. Just Monday, a local police chief and 12 police officers were massacred and found on a highway in El Papayo, which is in the Guerrero township of Coyuca de Benitez not far from Otis’ impact zone.

In the Atlantic, Hurricane Tammy continued moving northeastward over open water with winds of 100 mph (155 kph) after sweeping through the Lesser Antilles over the weekend. Tammy was located about 540 miles (870 kilometers) south-southeast of Bermuda. The storm was expected to become a powerful extratropical cyclone by Thursday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

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