After Hurricane Otis, Mexican Officials Survey the Damage

More than two dozen people were killed and three were missing after the most powerful hurricane to hit the pacific coast of Mexico turned a popular tourist destination into a scene of mass devastation, shocking forecasters and government officials with its intensity.

The extent of the tragedy began coming into clear view on Thursday morning as thousands of military officers, medical teams and government officials confronted a devastated Guerrero state, much of which effectively was cut off from the world after Hurricane Otis made landfall in the early hours of Wednesday.

“We are very sorry for the loss of 27 human beings,” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Thursday during his daily news conference in Mexico City after making a brief visit to the disaster area. “That is what hurts the most, because the material can be taken care of, and we are going to do it with great responsibility.”

The scope of the hurricane’s toll was still difficult to ascertain because access to the region was difficult and communications were still largely cut off. The hurricane struck with little warning after it grew with astonishing speed from a tropical storm into a Category 5 hurricane packing sustained winds of 165 miles per hour when it made landfall.

The authorities were particularly concerned about Acapulco, a port city of more than 852,000 people on the Pacific Coast that was in the direct path of Otis. Acapulco, the largest city in Guerrero State, was hosting an international mining industry convention when the storm hit. In addition, many hotels were packed with tourists.

Photographs and videos showed ravaged hotel rooms, doors ripped from hinges and furniture scattered throughout city streets.

Frightened tourists hid in their resorts on Wednesday night as the hurricane collapsed ceilings and shattered windows. Winds ripped trees and every utility pole in the city from the ground, Mr. López Obrador said, adding that Acapulco remained without power, communication and water. Beaches that once brought visitors from all over the world were now covered in piles of debris. Many streets turned into rivers of mud.

More than 200 patients had to be moved out of damaged hospitals, said Rosa Icela Rodriguez, the national secretary of security and citizen protection. Residents could be seen carrying necessities — bags of food, toilet paper and mattresses — through muddied streets.

More than 7,600 Mexican Army and Air Force officials were deployed to Guerrero, as well as more than 700 members of the National Guard, according to officials. Search and rescue teams were also sent to survey Acapulco and the surrounding mountainous region, which is susceptible to landslides.

Mr. López Obrador said the federal government would also begin delivering food to the area by air.

But efforts to rebuild the damaged communities of Guerrero could face challenges made more difficult after Mr. López Obrador overhauled Mexico’s Natural Disaster Fund, a pool of federal money for emergency relief. The president made the move two years ago while he pushed for budget cuts across the federal government.

By law, the fund received 0.4 percent of Mexico’s federal budget every year, and if the money went unspent then it rolled into the next year. Now the country no longer has a regulated percent of the federal budget meant for disaster relief. Instead, the budget is revised every year and fluctuates based on other priorities.

Studies found that the fund had helped to quickly restore health services and eased bottlenecks in delivering disaster aid.

Mr. López Obrador grew animated as he defended his decision on Thursday, calling the fund a “petty cash box” that was at the disposal of “corrupt politicians.”

The Mexican president said he had visited Acapulco on Wednesday evening, encountering a mudslide and a flooded river along the way. Photographs showed him walking in the mud as he visited a community, near Acapulco.

“There were many sinkholes, the highway was broken in several parts,” Mr. López Obrador said. “We got stuck there, we had to walk on foot, the people were very supportive.” He said the damage was the worst in Acapulco.

Zoé Robledo, the director general of the Mexican Social Security Institute, said on Wednesday that he had deployed an emergency team of nurses who had recently worked in Haiti.

“We are also preparing personnel teams for conservation issues: medicine supply, personnel strengthening, focusing on the patients,” Mr. Robledo said.

Otis rapidly intensified on Tuesday and into the early hours of Wednesday, developing from a tropical storm with winds of 65 miles per hour to a Category 5 storm with winds 100 miles per hour faster in less than 24 hours. After walloping the coastline, the storm dissipated as it headed inland over southern Mexico.

Forecasters and the Mexican authorities were shocked by the magnitude of the storm. Their models largely failed to predict that it would intensify so abruptly, creating what Eric Blake, a forecaster with the National Hurricane Center, called a “nightmare scenario” in a forecast he wrote on Tuesday night.

“It is unprecedented in the country in recent times,” Mr. López Obrador said on Thursday.

Guerrero State has also been plagued by violence in recent years. Just this week, an armed group ambushed and killed more than a dozen law enforcement officers, including a local security secretary and a police chief in Coyuca de Benítez.

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