Acapulco, Mexico - As many as 60,000 tourists, many of whom traveled from Mexico City for a long holiday weekend, found themselves stranded in Acapulco, with the airport flooded and highways blocked by landslides and flooding caused by Tropical Storm Manuel.
The Guerrero state government said 40,000 tourists were stuck in the city, while the head of the local chamber of business owners said reports from hotels indicated the number could be as high as 60,000.
While many hotels were operating normally, many of the outlying neighborhoods of the city were without water or power service, and floodwater was knee-deep around the airport's check-in counters.
Emergency flights began arriving in Acapulco Tuesday to evacuate some of the tens of thousands of tourists stranded in the resort city by flooding and landslides that shut down the highway to Mexico City and swamped the international airport. Two of Mexico's largest airlines, Aeromexico and Interjet, began running flights to and from the still-swamped international airport.
Those with already purchased tickets were being given first priority, then families with small children or elderly members, officials said. Interjet's director told Milenio TV that his airline's first flight had landed just before 11 am, and was taking 150 passengers back to Mexico City. The operation was slowed by flooding that had shut the terminal and rendered its radar inoperative. So passengers had to board directly from the runway.
Everyone else who couldn't wait for the government's promise to reopen the roads within two days flocked to Air Base 7 about 20 minutes north of Acapulco, where a military air bridge made up of barely more than a dozen aircraft ferried tourists to Mexico City. The normally quiet beach-front installation was transformed into a scene from a conflict zone.
Many emerged from their hotels for the first time Tuesday morning after days of pelting rain. "We realized the extent of the disaster for the first time because we were closed in and only saw rain and flooding," said Alejandra Vadillo Martinez, a 24-year-old from D.F. who was staying with relatives in the Crowne Plaza hotel overlooking the Bay of Acapulco.
The main coastal boulevard was open Tuesday morning and most hotels appeared to have power, water and food, though that was little consolation to tourists unable to get home. Many told of horror stories of spending the weekend trapped by torrential rains inside their hotels. "We've realized that it was a mistake to come to Acapulco because all we saw was rain, rain, rain," said Guadalupe Hernandez, a 55-year-old housewife from Mexico City.
The situation was far more serious on the low-income periphery of the city, where steep hills funnel rainwater into neighborhoods of cinder block houses.
City officials said some 23,000 homes, mostly on Acapulco's outskirts, were without electricity and water. Stores were nearly emptied by residents who rushed to stock up on basics as the dimension of the storm damage became clear. An unknown number of homes were badly damaged by landslides and flooding.
Natividad Gallegos, who lives in a poor section of Acapulco, said she returned from shopping Monday to find her house buried by a landslide from a neighboring hill. "When I got home I saw a lot of strangers with picks and shovels, digging where my house used to be," she said, weeping.
Federal officials said it could take at least another two days to open the main highway to Acapulco, which was hit by more than 13 landslides from surrounding hills, and to bring food and relief supplies into the city of more than 800,000 people.
The death toll rose to 47 from the combined punch of Tropical Storm Manuel, which hit Acapulco and hundreds of miles of Mexico's Pacific Coast, and Hurricane Ingrid, which struck the Gulf coast over the weekend. Mexican meteorologists said it was the first time since 1958 that two tropical storms or hurricanes had hit both the country's coasts within 24 hours.Sources: Weather.com • TravelandTourWorld.com