Mexico turns to rebuilding after deadly storms

AFP-JIJI

Mexico on Saturday looked to the Herculean task of rebuilding after a rare double onslaught of storms, with at least 170 people feared dead in the path of destruction.

The death toll in the tragedy soared, with President Enrique Pena Nieto saying 68 people were feared dead in a landslide in the southern village of La Pintada in Guerrero state. An earlier count put the number of dead elsewhere at 101.

“The sheer volume of earth that has virtually buried more than 40 homes there means (it will be difficult) to find anybody alive” in La Pintada, the president said during a news conference with members of his Cabinet in Guerrero, the state hardest hit by the twin storms.

“As of today, there is virtually no hope that we can find anyone alive” in La Pintada, added Pena Nieto, who visited the devastated mountain town.

A police rescue helicopter missing since Thursday also was found to have crashed, with no survivors, the Interior Ministry said. Five policemen were killed. The aircraft had been set to deliver relief goods to and evacuate people from La Pintada.

Pena Nieto canceled plans to travel to New York for the U.N. General Assembly this week and instead stayed in the disaster area over the weekend to help coordinate relief efforts.

An estimated 200,000 people were left homeless and nearly 60,000 more were evacuated because of the flooding and landslides in the wake of the storms — Manuel on the west coast and Ingrid from the east — that socked the country of 112 million people.

Officials also began tallying the massive economic damage in a country where the growth forecast already was lowered drastically in August. Road repairs alone will cost about $3 billion, the Transport Ministry said.

Tropical storms have hammered the country since Sept. 14, damaging tens of thousands of homes, flooding cities and washing out roads.

Mexico had not been hit simultaneously by two powerful storms since 1958, the National Weather Service said.

Guerrero state was the hardest hit, with its Pacific resort of Acapulco left cut off after the two roads to Mexico City were covered by landslides on Sept. 15. Tourists were stranded for five days.

Thousands finally packed into cars and buses Friday after authorities reopened road links to the capital.

Around 62,000 tourists have managed to leave the city, about half by road and half in special airlift planes.

The airport, whose terminal was flooded a week ago, should have been practically back to normal on Sunday, Communications and Transport Minister Gerardo Ruiz Esparza said.

Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong told radio station Formula that the damage from the storms was “beyond calculation.”

In Guerrero, one of Mexico’s poorest states, it will be particularly hard to tally the toll because the terrain is mountainous with many small villages that are hard to reach, he said.

Early official estimates are that the storms damaged 1.5 million homes in 22 of Mexico’s 32 states, along with 72 roads or highways.

In Guerrero alone, the preliminary damage estimate is $380 million, according to state Gov. Angel Aguirre.

Half the picturesque resort city of Acapulco was flooded, while rising waters brought out crocodiles. Looters ransacked stores.

But Acapulco’s airport, which had been swamped, “is almost back to normal service,” Ruiz Esparza said at midday Saturday.

People continued to work with shovels and pickaxes in La Pintada, a coffee-growing village west of Acapulco.

The mud collapsed on the village of 400 people during independence day celebrations last Monday, swallowing homes, a school and church before crashing into the river.

Soldiers and Civil Protection workers, many of them wearing surgical masks to prevent infection, removed pieces of broken homes and chopped up fallen trees with machetes.