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Hurricane Otis death toll rises to 43, missing now number 36 as search and recovery work continues

By Associated Press
Published: October 29, 2023, 2:54pm

ACAPULCO, Mexico — At least 43 people died when Category 5 Hurricane Otis slammed into Mexico’s southern Pacific coast, the governor of hard-hit Guerrero said Sunday as the death toll continued to climb.

Gov. Evelyn Salgado said on X, the platform formerly called Twitter, that the number of missing also rose to 36 from 10 a day earlier. That increase came after authorities had raised the toll to 39 on Saturday.

In Acapulco, families began to bury the dead on Sunday and continued the search for essentials while government workers and volunteers cleared streets clogged with muck and debris from the powerful Category 5 hurricane.

More resources were arriving as searchers recovered more bodies from Acapulco’s harbor and from beneath 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 with hundreds of families still awaiting word from loved ones it was likely to keep rising.

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.

Many people rode out on boats 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 fishermen 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.’”

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Military personnel and volunteers had worked along Acapulco’s main tourist strip Saturday and Salgado announced Sunday that the boulevard had been cleared of debris.

But on the periphery of the city, neighborhoods remained in ruins. Salgado also said that the national electric company reported restoring power to 58% of homes and businesses in Acapulco and 21 water tankers were distributing water to outlying neighborhoods.

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 military presence swelled to 15,000 in the area. López Obrador had called on the armed forces to set up checkpoints in the city to deter looting and robbery.

The federal civil defense agency tallied 220,000 homes that were damaged by the storm, he said.