MEXICO CITY (AP) — Three foreign residents were among at least 47 people killed when Hurricane Otis devastated Mexico’s resort city of Acapulco last week, officials said Monday, as the search for the missing focused on submerged boats.
Those confirmed dead included one American, one Canadian and one person from England, all of whom had been living in Acapulco for some time and were not considered tourists, local prosecutors said.
Meanwhile, the Navy said search efforts would now focus on finding possible bodies among the 29 boats known to have sunk in Acapulco Bay the night the hurricane hit.
The boats have been located and authorities were waiting for a ship equipped with a crane to arrive to lift the wrecks out of the water, Navy Secretary Adm. José Rafael Ojeda said.
There have been continuing reports that some crew members were aboard boats during the storm. Acapulco is known for both its abundance of expensive yachts and its cheap tour boats that carry tourists around the bay.
“As of now we know of 29 craft that have sunk,” Ojeda said. “A ship with a crane is going to arrive to lift the boats … we already know where they are.” He said they hoped not to find “any drowned people there.”
Otis roared ashore last Wednesday with devastating 165 mph (266 kph) winds after strengthening to Category 5 power so rapidly that people had little time to prepare.
In previous hurricanes in Acapulco, most of the dead were swept away by flooding on land. But with Otis, a significant number appear to have died at sea. Residents have said that some crews had either chosen or been ordered to stay aboard to guard their craft.
A local business chamber leader put the number of missing or dead at sea as high as 120, but there has been no official confirmation of that.
Abigail Andrade Rodríguez was one of four crew members aboard the rental boat Litos, a 94-foot (29-meter), twin-motor yacht based in Puerto Marques, just south of Acapulco’s main bay, on the night the hurricane hit.
“None of them has been found,” said Susy Andrade, her aunt.
“She spoke with her family (Tuesday) and she said the sea was very choppy, and that they were going to leave Puerto Marques and head for the (Acapulco) marina to see if they would be safer there,” Andrade said. “It appears they didn’t arrive.”
Around midnight, the yacht appears to have sent out an SOS after being blown or fleeing across the main bay. There was no official word that the Litos was among the 29 boats confirmed sunk.
“Things don’t look good,” Andrade said, “but we want to find her.”
There were conflicting reports of the number of people confirmed dead so far.
The government reported Sunday that at least 48 people died, most in Acapulco. Mexico’s civil defense agency said in a statement that 43 of the dead were in the resort city of Acapulco and five in the nearby township of Coyuca de Benitez.
However, Roberto Arroyo, Guerrero state’s civil defense secretary, said late Monday that the death toll stood at 47, with 54 people listed as missing. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.
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.
In Acapulco, families held funerals for the dead on Sunday and continued the search for essentials while government workers and volunteers cleared streets clogged with muck and debris left by the hurricane.
Katy Barrera, 30, said Sunday that her aunt’s family got buried under a landslide when tons of mud and rock tumbled down onto their home. Her aunt’s body was found with the remains of their three children ranging in age from 2 to 21. Her uncle was still missing. Separately, Barrera’s own mother and brother also remained missing.
“The water came in with the rocks, the mud and totally buried them,” Barrera, who was standing outside a local morgue, said of her aunt’s family.
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 federal civil defense agency tallied 220,000 homes that were damaged by the hurricane, which blew out the windows and walls of some high-rise hotels and ripped the tin roofs off thousands of homes.
Officials from the national electric company promised to have power restored in all of Acapulco by late Tuesday, a full week after the hurricane hit.