Mexico struggled Saturday to recover from the effects of heavy rain that drenched two-thirds of the country over the last week, killing more than 100 people in landslides and flooding.
Since September 14 the country has been hammered by tropical storms Ingrid and Manuel, which left a trail of destruction that damaged tens of thousands of homes, flooded cities and washed out roads. Mexico has not been hit simultaneously by two powerful storms like this since 1958, the National Weather Service said. After regenerating into a hurricane and hitting the northwestern state of Sinaloa late Thursday, Manuel finally dissipated over the mountains.
As of late Friday the death toll stood at 101, with 68 people missing following a massive mudslide that swallowed half of the village of La Pintada in Guerrero state, Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said. Osorio Chong delivered the grim news Friday from the resort town of Acapulco, in one of the worst-affected regions, with President Enrique Pena Nieto by his side.
The state of Guerrero was the hardest hit, with at least 65 deaths and its Pacific resort of Acapulco left isolated after the two roads to Mexico City were covered by landslides on September 15. Osorio Chong also said that authorities are searching for a police helicopter that had been evacuating people from La Pintada when it disappeared Thursday. Only crew members were apparently missing.
"We are really worried," the minister earlier told Radio Formula. "They risked their lives all the time, because it was important to evacuate people."The cost of repairing damage caused by the two storms is still "incalculable," Osorio Chong said.
Pena Nieto, who visited several affected communities in Guerrero, said that he will stay in Acapulco "to continue working with the authorities and volunteers that have joined to help" in reconstruction efforts. Due to the emergency the Mexican president also canceled his trip to New York, where he was scheduled to speak at the United Nations.
Thousands of tourists trapped in flood-stricken Acapulco packed into cars and buses on Friday after authorities reopened the road link to Mexico City following the storms. Traffic piled up as police allowed cars to leave in groups of 50 to avoid huge backups on the "Sun Highway." The highway department warned travelers that the trip north, which usually takes around four hours, would last nine to 10 hours, with only a single lane open in some stretches and a diversion to another road.
"Thank God we're leaving, even if there is traffic," said Imelda Cuellar Ramirez, a Mexican holidaymaker who was driving out with eight relatives.
More than 40,000 tourists, mostly Mexicans seeking sun during a three-day holiday weekend, were left stranded for five days when the storms struck. Half the city was flooded, while rising waters brought out crocodiles. Looters ransacked stores. Frustrated tourists sheltered at the convention center blocked an avenue for half an hour late Thursday to protest the slow pace of an airlift organized by the military and commercial carriers. By Saturday most of the tourists had been flown out or managed to drive out.
The government will now focus on a "return to normalcy" in Guerrero and other affected states, Pena Nieto said.
Meanwhile hundreds of troops and rescuers dug with shovels and pickaxes in La Pintada, the coffee-growing village west of Acapulco swamped by a massive mudslide. Officially, two people were killed -- their bodies were pulled out of the debris -- and 68 are missing. Villagers fear that scores have perished.
"I think there's a lot of dead. A lot of my relatives died, they're buried and we can't do anything," said farmer Diego Zeron.
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. The soldiers and civil protection workers, many wearing surgical masks, removed pieces of broken homes and chopped up fallen trees with machetes. Helicopters evacuated more than 330 villagers to Acapulco, but a few families decided to stay back, waiting for news on the missing.