ACAPULCO, Mexico : Thousands of exhausted holidaymakers were vying to be airlifted out of Acapulco after days marooned in mud and flood waters from twin storms that have killed at least 57 nationwide.
Mexican officials on Tuesday began using commercial and military aircraft to evacuate stranded travellers while Mexico’s air force flew in vital supplies to the Pacific resort city.
Mexican media quoted Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong as saying that the death toll had risen from 47 to at least 57 since tropical storms Ingrid and Manuel hit with brutal ferocity early this week.
Large swaths of the country were inundated from rains that fell as Mexicans were embarking on a three-day holiday weekend, catching thousands of vacationers off guard.
The huge storms sparked landslides and caused rivers to overflow in several states.
Several regions were still being battered by heavy rains and floods. While Ingrid dissipated after hitting the east coast Monday, the US National Hurricane Center said Manuel regenerated as a tropical depression south of the Baja California peninsula.
Officials said 40,000 Mexican and foreign beachgoers were marooned in Acapulco hotels after landslides blocked the two main highways out of the Pacific city, while knee-high dark water covered the airport’s terminal, cutting off the picturesque resort city of 680,000 people.
Meanwhile, back in town, thousands of looters streamed out of the Costco wholesale store in the exclusive Diamante district, wading out of the flooded store with food, televisions and even fridges while soldiers and federal police looked on, AFP correspondents said.
“We are taking food to our children, there’s nothing to eat,” said a woman hauling away grocery bags.
Other looters broke glass doors to enter shops in two malls, snatching home appliances and mattresses.
“We can’t stop them. We are in a serious emergency situation,” a soldier said, declining to give his name.
Meanwhile, tourists and residents formed huge lines to buy food at three supermarkets that remained open.
The interior minister warned it would take two to three days to reopen the two highways out of Acapulco, which lies in the hard-hit southwestern state of Guerrero.
The airport terminal remained closed, but passengers were driven directly to the runway from a concert hall turned into a shelter and operations center for the airlines.
The military and Aeromexico and Interjet airlines began to fly people to Mexico City. Transport Minister Gerardo Ruiz Esparza said around 600 people had been flown out so far.
Interjet president Miguel Aleman Magnani said flying into Acapulco was complicated, because the radar was out and there were few dry spots on the runway.
“It’s all visual — like in the old days,” he told radio Formula.
Aeromexico said it planned to fly 2,000 people out by Wednesday.
Some 2,000 people were sheltered at the World Imperial Forum, where tourists lined up at an improvised airline counter, luggage in hand, hoping to get on a flight. Another 1,000 people were taking refuge in a convention center.
The airlines were transporting people with prior reservations first. Aeromexico was charging $115 and Interjet $77 for new tickets.
“We’re deciding whether we return by plane or wait for the road to open, but the problem is food,” said Andres Guerra Gutierrez, a Mexico City resident who arrived by car with 14 family members last Friday.
“It was a weather phenomenon, but they should have warned us that a storm was coming, so we could at least buy food,” he said.
The first military flight carrying aid landed late Monday.
More than half the city was flooded, officials said. Some residents traveled on jetskis while federal police said helicopters rescued some 200 people from rooftops.
Osorio Chong said the weather systems affected 254 towns nationwide, forced 39,000 people to evacuate, caused 100 rivers to overflow and killed at least 47 people.
It was the first time since 1958 that two tropical storms hit Mexico within 24 hours.
Manuel struck the Pacific coast on Sunday while Ingrid weakened from hurricane to tropical storm strength as it made landfall on the northeastern coast on Monday.
Valentin Mario Calderon, who was staying in Acapulco’s Mayan Palace Hotel with his wife and three nephews, secured a flight leaving Tuesday.
“The deluge came Sunday. We thought a tsunami was coming, and we put our faith in God,” Calderon said.