ACAPULCO, Mexico - Mexican military and commercial flights airlifted hundreds of tourists stranded in the flooded resort of Acapulco on Tuesday, where looters ransacked stores after two deadly storms struck.
The official death toll rose to 47 after the tropical storms, Ingrid and Manuel, swamped large swaths of the country during a three-day holiday weekend, sparking landslides and causing rivers to overflow in several states.
Officials said 40,000 Mexican and foreign beachgoers were marooned in Acapulco hotels after landslides blocked the two main highways out of the Pacific city, while knee-high dark water covered the airport's terminal, leaving the the resort city of 680,000 people cut off.
Hundreds of people looted the Costco wholesale store in the exclusive Diamante district and broke glass doors to enter other shops in two malls, snatching food, home appliances and mattresses, an AFP correspondent said. "We can't stop them. We are in a serious emergency situation," a soldier said, declining to give his name.
Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong warned it would take two to three days to reopen the two highways out of Acapulco, which lies in the hard-hit southwestern state of Guerrero.
The airport terminal remained closed, but passengers were driven directly to the runway from a concert hall turned into a shelter and operations centre for the airlines.
The military and Aeromexico and Interjet airlines began to fly people to Mexico City. Transport Minister Gerardo Ruiz Esparza said around 600 people had been flown out so far.
Interjet president Miguel Aleman Magnani said flying into Acapulco was complicated, because the radar was out and there were few dry spots on the runway.
"It's all visual - like in the old days," he told radio Formula. Aeromexico said it planned to fly 2,000 people out by Wednesday. Meanwhile, at the World Imperial Forum, some 2,000 people lined up at an improvised airline counter, luggage in hand, hoping to get a seat on a flight. The airlines were transporting people with prior reservations first. Aeromexico was charging $115 and Interjet $77 for new tickets.
"We're deciding whether we return by plane or wait for the road to open, but the problem is food," said Andres Guerra Gutierrez, a Mexico City resident who arrived by car with 14 family members last Friday and was now waiting in line. "It was a weather phenomenon, but they should have warned us that a storm was coming, so we could at least buy food," he said. The first military flight carrying aid landed late Monday.
Valentin Mario Calderon, who was staying at the Mayan Palace Hotel with his wife and three nephews, secured a flight leaving Tuesday. "The deluge came Sunday. We thought a tsunami was coming, and we put our faith in God," Calderon said.
More than half the city was flooded, officials said. Osorio Chong said the weather systems affected 254 towns nationwide, forced 39,000 people to evacuate, caused 100 rivers to overflow and killed at least 47 people.
It was the first time since 1958 that two tropical storms hit the country within 24 hours.
In Acapulco, authorities have used boats, amphibious vehicles and helicopters to rescue people who took refuge on upper floors or roofs of their homes after waters rose as high as 10 feet (three meters) in some neighborhoods. Some residents used jetskis to move around while the rising waters even brought out crocodiles, complicating rescue missions.
Manuel struck the Pacific coast on Sunday while Ingrid weakened from hurricane to tropical storm strength as it made landfall on the northeastern coast on Monday.
Authorities warned that an emergency remains in place in Guerrero and the eastern state of Veracruz.
While Ingrid dissipated, the US National Hurricane Center said Manuel became a tropical depression again near Baja California.