Mexico’s security authorities raised the death toll Saturday from the Category 5 Hurricane Otis that struck the country’s southern Pacific coast early Wednesday to 39.
Mexico Security Secretary Rosa Icela Rodríguez said in a recorded video message with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador posted to the platform X that the probable cause of death for the 39 was “suffocation by submersion.” But she added that investigations continue and that the victims had not yet been identified.
The increase comes after the initial death toll of 27 had not changed since it was announced Thursday. The storm’s human toll was becoming a point of contention as local media reported the recovery of more bodies. López Obrador criticized his opponents for trying to make the storm’s death toll a political issue.
Rodríguez said the number of missing rose to 10. Hundreds of families have been awaiting word from their loved ones.
In Acapulco on Saturday, government workers and volunteers cleared streets, gas station lines wrapped around the block for what gas was to be had, and some lucky families found food essentials as a more organized relief operation took shape four days after Hurricane Otis.
The aid has been slow to arrive. The Category 5 storm’s destruction cut off the city of nearly 1 million people for the first day and it intensified so quickly on Tuesday that little to nothing had been staged in advance.
Authorities had the difficult task of searching for the dead and missing. Many had remained incredulous that the government’s initial death toll of 27 and four missing had not risen in the past two days.
One military official, who did not want to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to media, said officials in his area had found at least six bodies and his unit had found one.
It had been difficult to find bodies because they were often covered in trees and other debris, he said. He was certain there were more deaths than the 27 reported, but said that even security forces hadn’t been provided an updated figure. Hundreds of families awaited word from loved ones.
In another part of the city, Orlando Mendoza, 46, walked down a highway drenched in sweat carrying two bags of tuna, sardines, water, pasta and soup. He was bringing food to his wife and three young children.
“Even though it isn’t much, it’s something,” he said as he walked down the winding mountain highway toward the city center.
A group of volunteers from the central state of Puebla who scraped together some money to help out people in the city were handing out bags of food to families like Mendoza’s gathered on the side of the highway.
Abel Montoya, 67, had been waiting in line for gasoline with hundreds of other people for an hour and a half Saturday holding an empty jug. Soldiers were overseeing the distribution of gasoline, presumably to avoid the uncontrolled ransacking of stores that happened across the city in recent days.
“I need to be able to move to search for water and ice,” he said. “Now there’s this shortage of food and I might even have to leave Acapulco, go to (the state capital) Chilpancingo.”
Gasoline had been unavailable, not because there wasn’t any, but because there was no electricity to operate the pumps.
Most families anxiously hunted for water, with some saying they were rationing their supplies. The municipal water system was out because its pumps had no power.
On Saturday, López Obrador said the national electric company had told him that service had been resumed to 55% of customers in the affected area, but more than 200,000 homes and businesses remained without power.
The federal civil defense agency had tallied 220,000 homes that were damaged by the storm, he said.