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3 foreigners confirmed among the dozens dead from Hurricane Otis in Mexico

People take items from stores in the aftermath of Hurricane Otis in Acapulco, Mexico, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023.
Felix Marquez
/
AP
People take items from stores in the aftermath of Hurricane Otis in Acapulco, Mexico, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023.

Updated October 30, 2023 at 11:13 PM ET

MEXICO CITY — Three foreign residents were among at least 47 people killed when Hurricane Otis hit Mexico's resort city of Acapulco last week, officials said Monday, as the continuing search for the missing focused on submerged boats.

Those confirmed dead included one American, one Canadian and one person from England, all of whom had been living in Acapulco for some time and were not considered tourists, local prosecutors said.

Meanwhile, the Navy said search efforts would now focus on finding possible bodies among the 29 boats known to have sunk in Acapulco Bay the night the hurricane hit.

The boats have been located and authorities were waiting for a ship equipped with a crane to arrive later Monday to lift the wrecks out of the water, Navy Secretary Adm. José Rafael Ojeda said.

There have been continuing reports that some crew members were aboard boats during the storm. Acapulco is known for both its abundance of expensive yachts and its cheap tour boats that carry tourists around the bay.

"As of now we know of 29 craft that have sunk," Ojeda said. "A ship with a crane is going to arrive to lift the boats ... we already know where they are." He said they hoped not to find "any drowned people there."

Otis roared ashore last Wednesday with devastating 165 mph (266 kph) winds after strengthening so rapidly that people had little time to prepare.

In previous hurricanes in Acapulco, most of the dead were swept away by flooding on land. But with Otis, a significant number appear to have died at sea. Local residents have said that some crews had either chosen or been ordered to stay aboard to guard their craft.

A local business chamber leader put the number of missing or dead at sea as high as 120, but there has been no official confirmation of that.

Abigail Andrade Rodríguez was one of four crew members aboard the rental boat Litos, a 94-foot (29-meter), twin-motor yacht based in Puerto Marques, just south of Acapulco's main bay, on the night the hurricane hit.

Firefighters and divers search for bodies near sunken boats at a yacht club in Acapulco, Mexico, on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023, following Hurricane Otis.
Felix Marquez / AP
/
AP
Firefighters and divers search for bodies near sunken boats at a yacht club in Acapulco, Mexico, on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023, following Hurricane Otis.

"None of them has been found," said Susy Andrade, her aunt.

"She spoke with her family (Tuesday) and she said the sea was very choppy, and that they were going to leave Puerto Marques and head for the (Acapulco) marina to see if they would be safer there," Andrade said. "It appears they didn't arrive."

Around midnight the yacht appears to have sent out an SOS after being blown or fleeing across the main bay. There was no official word that the Litos was among the 29 boats confirmed sunk.

"Things don't look good," Andrade said, "but we want to find her."

There were conflicting reports of the number of people confirmed dead so far.

The government reported Sunday that at least 48 people died when Category 5 Hurricane Otis slammed into Mexico's southern Pacific coast, most of them in Acapulco. Mexico's civil defense agency said in a statement that 43 of the dead were in the resort city of Acapulco and five in the nearby township of Coyuca de Benitez.

Guerrero state's governor created some confusion Monday by reporting 45 dead, but it was unclear if she was citing the toll only for Acapulco or the whole state. Gov. Evelyn Salgado did say, however, that the number of those missing had risen to 47.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Saturday that his opponents are trying to inflate the toll to damage him politically, but with hundreds of families still awaiting word from loved ones, it was likely to keep rising.

In Acapulco, families held funerals for the dead on Sunday and continued the search for essentials while government workers and volunteers cleared streets clogged with muck and debris left by the hurricane.

Katy Barrera, 30, said Sunday that her aunt's family got buried under a landslide when tons of mud and rock tumbled down onto their home. Her aunt's body was found with the remains of their three children ranging in age from 2 to 21. Her uncle was still missing. Separately, Barrera's own mother and brother also remained missing.

"The water came in with the rocks, the mud and totally buried them," Barrera, who was standing outside a local morgue, said of her aunt's family.

As she prepared to lay her relatives to rest, Barrera — who had hardly even had a chance to search for her own mother and brother — expressed desperation and frustration at the aid and personnel she had begun seeing in tourist areas of the city but not in their neighborhood high on a mountainside hit by landslides.

"There are many, many people here at the (morgue) that are entire families; families of six, families of four, even eight people," she said. "I want to ask authorities not to lie ... there are a lot of people who are arriving dead."

During a short time outside the morgue Sunday morning, at least a half-dozen families arrived, some looking for relatives; others identifying bodies and some giving statements to authorities.

The somber convoys of hearses and relatives crossed much of the battered Acapulco en route to the cemetery, passing ransacked stores, streets strewn with debris and soldiers cutting away fallen trees.

Officials from the national electric company promised to have power restored in all of Acapulco by late Tuesday, a full week after the hurricane hit.

Aid has been slow to arrive. The storm's destruction cut off the city of nearly 1 million people for the first day, and because Otis had intensified so quickly on Tuesday little to nothing had been staged in advance.

The federal civil defense agency tallied 220,000 homes that were damaged by the hurricane, which blew out the windows and walls of some high-rise hotels and ripped the tin roofs off thousands of homes.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press