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Looting hits Acapulco as Mexico storm death toll reaches 80

Tropical Storm Ingrid is seen in this NOAA GOES-East satellite image captured at 11:55 a.m. EDT (15:55 GMT) on September 13, 2013. REUTERS/N
Tropical Storm Ingrid is seen in this NOAA GOES-East satellite image captured at 11:55 a.m. EDT (15:55 GMT) on September 13, 2013. REUTERS/N

By Luis Enrique Martinez and Alberto Fajardo

ACAPULCO, Mexico (Reuters) - Looting broke out in the Mexican beach resort of Acapulco on Wednesday as the government struggled to reach tens of thousands of people cut off by flooding that had claimed at least 80 lives.

Stores were ransacked by looters who carried off everything from televisions to Christmas decorations after floodwaters wreaked havoc in the Pacific port, which has experienced some of the worst storm damage to hit Mexico in years.

Tens of thousands of people have been trapped in the aftermath of two tropical storms that hammered vast swathes of Mexico. More than 1 million people have been affected. Acapulco's airport terminal was under water, stranding tourists.

There was no let-up in sight.

One of the tropical storms, Manuel, became a hurricane late on Wednesday, barreling north along Mexico's northwestern coast and threatening more flooding and mudslides.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said 58 people were still missing from Atoyac, a municipality near Acapulco in Guerrero state. Authorities had recovered 18 bodies earlier in the day.

"There was a massive mudslide that practically buried part of a small community of about 400 people," he said. "Sadly, it looks like they were trapped."

Some 288 people had been rescued from the site and another 91 were still waiting to be evacuated, officials said.

Shops were plundered in the city's upscale Acapulco neighborhood of Diamante, home to luxury hotels and plush apartments, where dozens of cars were ruined by muddy brown floodwaters. Marines were posted outside stores to prevent further theft.

"Unfortunately, it wasn't looting from need of food. It was stealing for stealing's sake," said Mariberta Medina, head of a local hoteliers' association. "They even stole Halloween and Christmas decorations and an outboard motor."

Acapulco's tourist trade was already grappling with a surge in drug gang violence, which earned the city the dubious distinction of Mexico's murder capital last year.

Torrential rains were spawned by two tropical storms, Ingrid and Manuel, which converged on Mexico from the Gulf and the Pacific over the weekend, triggering the flash floods.

Rescue workers in the state of Baja California Sur, home to the popular beach resorts of Los Cabos, prepared to evacuate people from flood-prone areas.

Another area of low pressure over Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula has a 70 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone in the next 48 hours. It is likely to dump more heavy rains across an area already hit by floods and mudslides.

On Wednesday afternoon, national emergency services said they had registered 80 deaths due to the storms.

Hurricane Manuel could dump up to 15 inches of rain in the state of Sinaloa and cause life-threatening flash-floods, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

As the cost of the flooding continued to mount, the Finance Ministry said it had around 12 billion pesos ($925.60 million)available in emergency funding.

EVACUATIONS

The poor weather forced state oil monopoly Pemex to evacuate three oil platforms and halt drilling at some wells. A Pemex official said its refining operations had not been affected and that the company had seven days worth of inventory.

Pemex's refinery in Tamaulipas, its smallest, was partially flooded, but operations were still normal, the firm said. The Transport Ministry said all oil export terminals were open.

The rains pummeled several Mexican states, with Veracruz, Guerrero, Puebla, Hidalgo, Michoacan, Tamaulipas and Oaxaca among the hardest hit.

Landslides have buried homes and a bus in Veracruz on Mexico's eastern seaboard. Thousands were evacuated from flooded areas, some by helicopter, and taken to shelters.

Dozens of homes in Tampico, one of the main Gulf ports north of Veracruz, were waterlogged when the Panuco River burst its banks, forcing evacuations.

Crocodiles swam into the streets of Tampico.

"They don't bother the people," a spokesman for the state government of Tamaulipas said.

The port was operating as normal, he added.

Acapulco is struggling to cope with the downpour that has submerged vast areas of the city, choked its palm-lined streets with mud and stranded about 40,000 visitors.

More than half of the deaths occurred in Guerrero, where Acapulco lies. Despite the loss of life, state Governor Angela Aguirre said the beach resort was "virtually back to normality."

About 5,300 stranded tourists in Acapulco have been taken to Mexico City, said Gerardo Ruiz Esparza, Mexico's minister for transport and communications.

But food and bottled water are scarce, and cash has been hard to come by after power outages knocked out bank machines.

"We waited for more than hour to get into a shop and only managed to get instant soup, some tins of tuna and two cartons of milk," said Clemencia Santana Garcia, 45, who sells goods on Acapulco's beaches. "This is going to get ugly."

($1 = 12.9645 Mexican pesos)

(Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, Miguel Gutierrez, David Alire Garcia and Anahi Rama; Writing by Michael O'Boyle and Simon Gardner; Editing by Dave Graham, Vicki Allen, Cynthia Osterman and Bill Trott)

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