A survivor of Acapulco’s Hurricane Otis has told of the terrifying hours spent sheltering during the Category 5 storm – and how there was little warning that a deadly disaster was imminent.
Alexa Reza, 24, was on vacation at the Vidanta Acapulco Hotel, which faces the Pacific Ocean in the resort town, when she began to hear about the possibility of a hurricane on Tuesday.
“At 3pm, through the Vidanta hotel supermarket, we were told that there was a possibility of a hurricane hitting the area, but that it was passing by and was going to disintegrate,” she told The Independent.
“On Twitter and other government pages there was no strong news that something would happen.”
It wasn’t until 8pm that people learned that the hurricane was going to make landfall in Acapulco, Ms Reza said.
“We returned from the beach and it was raining very hard. We were able to go buy some groceries and we returned to the hotel, we had dinner in the room and there we received a notice that the hurricane would arrive [at midnight] but that we would be in the refuge only two hours, therefore we would be there until approximately 2am.”
Otis is the strongest-ever storm to make landfall on Mexico’s west coast. The hurricane underwent explosive intensification from Category 1 to Category 5 in just 12 hours, catching forecasters by surprise. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) described it as a “nightmare scenario” for the region.
“While we took shelter, more people arrived and thanks to them we knew that the situation was critical outside,” Ms Reza said. “Many people had their roofs fall on them, others were crushed by palm trees. The government never warned of the hurricane.
“Not even the inhabitants of Acapulco knew of the disaster that was coming, which is why no one took care of themselves or went for food.”
At least 27 people are dead and four are missing in Acapulco, according to Mexican officials, although those figures were met with distrust after local media said there were bodies in the city had not been recovered.
At 6am, conditions had slightly improved and the hotel guests were able to leave to survey the damage outside, she said.
“We had to go through mattresses full of glass, step on televisions, jump over fragments of what was once a ceiling. There. I [cut] open my forehead slightly on an iron beam,” Ms Reza said.
“There were bare wires everywhere. We returned to the shelter, they gave us a piece of sandwich with fruit for breakfast and later bread with egg and beans.”
In the aftermath of the hurricane, much of the city lay in ruins. Rural villages had also been badly-hit in Guerrero state, one of Mexico’s poorest regions.
On Friday, large parts of the city remained without power or drinking water. While there was some looting of expensive items, many people were searching stores for food and toilet paper.
Photos and videos showed a jumble of smashed yachts in the marina. Apartment buildings and hotels had hundreds of windows blown out, facades stripped off and collapsed ceilings.
Approximately 80 per cent of the city’s hotels were damaged by the storm, according to president of the Mexican Hotel Association, Miguel Ángel Fong. One estimate put the damage in Acapulco at a minimum of $10bn.
On Friday, government officials said that supplies and medical personnel were now getting into Acapulco and people were being evacuated.
Mr López Obrador also said a “house-to-house” census would begin on Friday. “Everyone will receive support, more than 400,000 houses will be visited,” he said.
Still on Friday, hundreds of people were posting digital posters of loved ones online and joining neighbourhood WhatsApp groups in a desperate hunt for the missing.