Looting in Acapulco, Mexico, after the devastating Hurricane Otis

ACAPULCO, Mexico (Reuters) – Looting broke out in the Mexican city of Acapulco after the popular beach resort was hit on Wednesday by record-breaking Hurricane Otis, which killed 27 people and left residents suffering from food and water shortages.

Otis battered Acapulco with winds of 165 mph (266 kph) early Wednesday, flooding roads, tearing off roofs from residences and hotels, submerging vehicles, and cutting off communications, roads and air connections.

The cost of the damage caused by the Category 5 storm was estimated at billions of dollars, and more than 8,000 members of the armed forces were sent to help clean up the stricken city.

“There has been looting in some places due to the state of emergency,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday, urging residents not to take advantage of the situation.

On Thursday evening, people carried goods including food, water and toilet paper from stores in Acapulco.

“We came to get food because we don’t have any,” a woman told Reuters.

Speaking at a regular news conference, Lopez Obrador promised that the government would help people in the city in the southern state of Guerrero, one of Mexico’s poorest states.

Raul Busto Ramirez, 76, an engineer who works at Acapulco Airport, said stores across the city have been closed since the hurricane struck, and that looting has broken out due to shortages.

“The aid is insufficient and all the shops are closed or destroyed,” he added, adding that the ATMs were out of order, leaving residents unable to withdraw money.

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Mexican authorities said Friday morning that in addition to the 27 dead, four people were still missing.

Governments sent messages of solidarity to Mexico about Otis, and Pope Francis expressed his condolences on Friday.

The US government said it was ready to provide any support requested by Mexico, and also delivered road clearing equipment to help open roads in Guerrero.

‘We were lucky’

The storm surprised forecasters, gathering strength unexpectedly quickly and exceeding their initial expectations.

The Mexican government has released little information about casualties so far, and Lopez Obrador said the country emerged from the hurricane better than it could have been.

“We were lucky. Nature, the Creator, protected us, even with the force of the hurricane,” he said. “There is a lot of material damage, but fortunately we did not record a large number of deaths.”

To evacuate tourists, an air bridge was established between Acapulco and Mexico City on Friday after authorities restored the control tower at the city’s airport.

The government has not yet estimated the cost of Otis, but Enkei Research, which tracks tropical storms and models the cost of damage, has predicted that the cost is likely “close to $15 billion.”

The Mexican Finance Ministry said on Thursday that it would allocate funds of more than $600 million to address damage caused by the storm.

State power company CFE said Friday it had restored 50% of electricity service in Guerrero and two ships were on their way to Acapulco with two water purification plants, a mobile kitchenette, four power plants and two motor pumps.

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Communications remain spotty, and Telcel, the mobile unit of Mexican telecom company America Movil, said it would give local customers free calls and other benefits until Nov. 2, as it works to restore normal service.

Telcel said it had so far restored nearly 60% of its mobile service as of Friday morning.

Mexican authorities said Otis was the strongest storm ever to hit Mexico’s Pacific coast, although Hurricane Patricia, which struck the resort of Puerto Vallarta eight years ago, increased wind speeds at sea.

(Reporting by Alexander Meneghini, José Cortés and Koetsali Nekte Ha in Acapulco – Prepared by Mohammed for the Arabic Bulletin), Laura Gottesdiener in Monterrey and Natalia Siniewski in Gdańsk; Diego Orr and Kylie Madre in Mexico City; Editing by Dave Graham, Chizuo Nomiyama, and Bill Berkrot

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