By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN
ACAPULCO, Mexico — The death toll from days of flooding in southern and central Mexico rose to 80 on Wednesday, and new reports of landslides in a village near the resort of Acapulco threatened to drive the number of casualties even higher.
Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said federal authorities had reached the village, known as La Pintada, by helicopter and had airlifted out 35 residents, four of whom were seriously injured in the slide, but they had not yet seen any bodies.
“It doesn’t look good, based on the photos we have in our possession,” Osorio Chong said, while noting that “up to this point, we do not have any (confirmed) as dead in the landslide.”
Earlier, speaking to local media, Osorio Chong said “this is a very powerful landslide, very big … You can see that it hit a lot of houses.”
Mexico was hit by the one-two punch of twin storms over the weekend, and the storm that soaked Acapulco on Sunday, Manuel, re-formed into a tropical storm Wednesday, threatening to bring more flooding to the country’s northern coast.
With a tropical disturbance over the Yucatan Peninsula headed toward the same Gulf coast hit by Hurricane Ingrid, the country could face another double hit, just it struggles to restore services and evacuate those stranded by last weekend’s flooding.
Mexico’s federal Civil Protection coordinator, Luis Felipe Puente, said 35,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and authorities raised the death toll across the country to 80.
But the death toll may rise further. Mayor Edilberto Tabares of the township of Atoyac told Milenio television that 18 bodies had been recovered and possibly many more remained buried in a remote mountain village that authorities have not yet been able to reach. Atoyac is a largely rural township about 42 miles west of Acapulco.
In Acapulco itself, gun-toting state police guarded the entrance to a partly flooded Costco store hours after people looted it on one of the city’s main boulevards, carting off shopping carts full of food, clothing, and in some cases flat-screen TVs.
Hundreds of people waded through waist-high brown water in the store’s parking lot on Wednesday, fishing out anything — cans of food or soda — that looters might have dropped. Others shouted for the now-shuttered store to be re-opened.
“If we can’t work, we have to come and get something to eat,” said 60-year-old fisherman Anastasio Barrera, as he stood with his wife outside the store. “The city government isn’t doing anything for us, and neither is the state government.”
With the twin roads from Acapulco to Mexico City closed down, at least 40,000 tourists saw a long holiday beach weekend degenerate into a desperate struggle to get weeping children, elderly parents and even a few damp, bedraggled dogs back home. Thousands of people, some sweating, profusely, waited in line Wednesday outside a shopping mall-convention center that was being used as a shelter and waiting area for flights out.
Two of Mexico’s largest airlines were running about two flights an hour from Acapulco’s still-flooded international airport, with priority for those with tickets, the elderly and families with young children.
Inside the shopping center, Omar Diaz, a 23-year-old window installer, waited with his wife, their 2-day-old baby and two other children on a foam mattress covered with a blanket. Their home was flooded and the few possessions they were able to save hung in plastic bags around their improvised bed.
His wife, Marisela Diaz, 24, gave birth to daughter Paula Jasmin shortly after Tropical Storm Manuel hit, but was asked to leave a local hospital “because there weren’t enough beds,” she said.
“We lost everything, our house, our bed, the fans, the refrigerator, the television,” said Omar, but Marisela was just happy just to be safe with her newborn. “We’re good here,” she said.
Outside, those waiting in the enormous lines for an airplane ticket out weren’t so lucky; they sweltered in the sun that had re-appeared after the storm.
Catalina Clave, 46, who works at the Mexico City stock exchange, sweated in the humid heat along with her husband and a group of friends who had been vacationing in Acapulco. Their excruciating wait had already stretched for two days.
“Forty-eight hours without electricity, no running water and now we can’t get home,” Clave said. “Now all I ask for is some shade and some information.” So far, authorities said they had flown about 5,300 people out of Acapulco.
The government has promised to reopen the roads between Acapulco and Mexico City, but they were blocked by dozens of mudslides, rocks and collapsed tunnels, and the first provisional way out won’t be ready for days, officials predict.
Some cash machines along Acapulco’s coastal boulevard were low on bills, but most of the city’s tourist zone appeared back to normal Wednesday, with roads clear, restaurants and hotels open and brightly lit and tourists strolling along the bay in an attempt to recover some of the leisure time lost to three days of incessant rains.
Gavin McLoughlin, 27, another teacher at Mexico City’s Greengates School, said he went to Acapulco on a late-night bus Thursday with about 30 other teachers at the school, many of whom are in their 20s.
“We had no idea of the weather,” the Englishman said. “We knew there was a hurricane on the other side but not this side.”
City officials said about 23,000 homes, mostly on Acapulco’s outskirts, were without electricity and water. Stores were nearly emptied by residents who rushed to stock up on basic goods. Landslides and flooding damaged an unknown number of homes.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Manuel was centered about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west-northwest of Mazatlan, with sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It was projected to rake the coast with near-hurricane-force winds on Thursday.