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Families hunt for loved ones missing since Hurricane Otis struck

Ad-hoc networks are spreading to help victims of the hurricane share information and reunite with missing loved ones.
Families hunt for loved ones missing since Hurricane Otis struck
Posted at 3:04 PM, Oct 27, 2023

Desperate families made missing posters Friday and joined online groups to find loved ones out of touch since Hurricane Otis devastated the Mexican Pacific coast city of Acapulco.

Officials said they are moving in supplies and evacuating people from the devastated metropolis of 1 million people.

As cell phone service returned to some parts of the city, many residents had help from friends and relatives living in other parts of Mexico and in the United States.

Residents joined together by neighborhood using online messaging platforms. On Thursday there were some 1,000 people in 40 chats, which grew in number through the day. Late Thursday, Guerrero state Gov. Evelyn Salgado followed their lead, urging people to send messages to government WhatsApp accounts about the missing.

Norma Manzano spent a day debating whether to make a digital missing poster, like so many people have done, for her two brothers, whom she had not heard from since shortly after Otis made landfall early Wednesday.

Manzano’s brothers had driven to Acapulco from Mexico City last weekend with three co-workers to build an installation for an international mining conference in a big hotel. The bachelors — 31-year-old Victor Manuel Manzano López and 38-year-old Alejandro Manzano López — are hard-working jokesters, their sister said.

They were staying in an AirBnB rental in Acapulco’s Diamond Point district, a seaside area hit hard by the storm and flooding.

Entire walls of beachside high rises were ripped clean off. Hundreds of thousands of homes remained without electricity. People lacking even the most basic resources were emptying stores out of everything from food to toilet paper.

Miguel Angel Fong, president of the Mexican Hotel Association, told the AP that 80% of the city’s hotels were damaged.

Alejandro called his sister around 2 a.m. Wednesday, about an hour after Otis made landfall. She didn’t hear the call. She awoke at 3 a.m. and saw the missed call and a number of increasingly frantic messages.

“He sent me a lot of messages that it was really bad, that the windows were breaking, that they tried to put mattresses against the windows, and he told me ‘I’m sending you my location so that if something happens you know where we are,’” Manzano said.

That was the last message.

“I feel so powerless not being able to do anything,” she said.

So she started joining groups on WhatsApp and Facebook. She joined so many that she lost count and made a poster of her brothers and their coworkers. She scours lists shared by others of people inside shelters.

So far, nothing.

“It makes me feel not alone, thinking that I’m not the only one going through this, that we have a lot of families who are worried about ours,” Manzano said from her home in Toluca, west of Mexico City.

Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval announced Friday that the official number of 27 dead and four missing had not changed but some in Mexico were skeptical of official tolls because the city remains largely cut off. Some local media have reported that there were bodies in the city that had not yet been recovered.

Other military officials leading Mexico’s response to the hurricane focused during President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s morning news briefing on the relief that would soon begin arriving in Acapulco.

An “air bridge” between Acapulco and Mexico City was established, they said. Planes carrying medical personnel would be landing at Acapulco’s commercial airport and leaving with tourists. The city’s military air base would receive all material aid flights and also carry evacuees back to the capital. Some 120 buses would also carry people out of the badly damaged city.

“Nature, the creator, protected us, even from the fury of the hurricane, it appears, López Obrador said. “We still have to wait to have all of the information about the missing people.”

“But it appears, even though the death of any person is unfortunate, there weren’t very many,” he said.

He said 1,000 government workers would begin a house-by-house census Friday to determine each family’s needs. Some 10,000 “packages” of appliances — refrigerators, stoves, mattresses — had already been collected by the government and were ready to distribute to families who need them, he said.

“Everyone will be supported, count on us,” the president said.

SEE MORE: Hurricane Otis caused 27 confirmed deaths, officials said

Acapulco is at the foot of steep mountains. Luxury homes and slums alike cover the hillsides with views of the glistening Pacific Ocean. Once drawing Hollywood stars for its nightlife, sport fishing and cliff diving shows, the port has in recent years fallen victim to competing organized crime groups that have sunk the city into violence, driving away many international tourists.

The Pacific storm strengthened with shocking swiftness before slamming into the coast early Wednesday, and the Mexican government deployed around 10,000 troops to deal with the aftermath. But equipment to move tons of mud and fallen trees from the streets was slow in arriving.

Acapulco’s municipal water system was down and around half a million homes lost power. López Obrador said that restoring power was a top priority, but by Thursday evening there were still 250,000 homes and businesses with no electricity.

Dozens of desperate tourists, tired of waiting for buses out of the city, walked along the narrow sidewalks through the long car tunnel under the mountain dividing the port from the rest of the city Thursday. They pulled suitcases and some carried children.

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