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Mexico struggles to recover from twin storms and rescue tourists

September 17, 2013|By Tracy Wilkinson | This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

MEXICO CITY — Mexican authorities launched operations Tuesday to rescue tens of thousands of stranded tourists from Pacific resorts such as Acapulco, as deadly twin storms dissipated but the floods they spawned continued to inundate vast parts of Mexico.

Almost the entire nation was experiencing storm-related weather, a meteorological phenomenon that authorities labeled of “historic” proportions.

The remnants of what had been Hurricane Ingrid battered the Gulf Coast, including Veracruz state, while Tropical Storm Manuel dumped torrential rain on the Pacific Coast,  a two-pronged weather attack not seen here in more than 50 years.

Nearly 40 people were reported killed in flooding and landslides and more than a quarter of a million were forced to flee their homes or suffered other serious loss, officials said.

[Updated at 1:18 p.m. on Sept. 17: Later Tuesday they raised the death toll to at least 49 people.]

In hardest-hit Guerrero state, where Acapulco is located, Gov. Angel Aguirre estimated damage to infrastructure -- downed bridges, washed-away roadway – at more than $150 million, and the losses more than double that when the amount of ruined housing was calculated.

“We are in a state of high emergency,” Aguirre said. He added that 20 towns in Guerrero remained cut off and incomunicado Tuesday.

Rosario Robles, national social development minister who was put in charge of recovery efforts, said getting food and water into Acapulco and  remote villages was the next urgent challenge.

Stranded and rather distressed tourists formed long, chaotic lines early Tuesday at the Acapulco airport, hoping it would reopen. By noon, major airlines Aeromexico and Interjet had begun ferrying passengers to Mexico City as part of an emergency air bridge. They had to board directly from the runway because the terminals were still not operational. The Mexican air force also flew supplies into Acapulco and evacuated people from the city.

Elsewhere in the popular city, visitors and residents waded in knee-deep water. The storms had hit during a long holiday weekend in Mexico, and legions of Mexico City residents traditionally use the time to go to Acapulco, the nearest beach. Most go by land, a trip of about three hours via the modern Highway of the Sun. But the road was blocked in places by mudslides and remained closed Tuesday.

“All land routes are closed and for the moment it is difficult to open the commercial airport of Acapulco,” said the national civil protection chief, Luis Felipe Puente.

“This was an extraordinary rain,” Luis Zarate, president of the Mexican Chamber of Construction Industry, told reporters.

The disaster compounded troubles for Acapulco, a former  international tourist mecca struggling to recover from deadly drug-gang violence that has made it one of the most dangerous cities in the country.

Authorities also extended emergency measures to the state of Oaxaca  on Tuesday after severe flooding was reported there.

Mexico’s National Meteorological Service said conditions indicated the possibility of a tropical cyclone forming over the Yucatan peninsula.

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wilkinson@latimes.com

Twitter: @TracyKWilkinson

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