Sunday, June 23, 2024

Hurricane Agatha leaves 22 people missing and at least 11 dead in Oaxaca

Hurricane Agatha, which made landfall Monday as a Category 2 storm, has claimed the lives of at least 11 people in Oaxaca, while 22 others are missing, according to preliminary reports.

Governor Alejandro Murat said Wednesday morning that a total of 33 people have been reported as missing, of whom 11 are confirmed dead.

Speaking via video link at President López Obrador’s regular press conference, Murat said that flooding due to overflowing rivers and mudslides was responsible for the disappearances and deaths. He declared that Oaxaca is in mourning.

The governor said Tuesday night that approximately seven people had lost their lives in an area encompassing the neighboring municipalities of San Mateo Piñas and Santiago Xanica. They are located inland from San Pedro Pochutla, the municipality where Agatha made landfall.

The military had to assist vehicles turned over by mudslides on the Pochutla-Huatulco highway near where Agatha made landfall.

Two people also died in Santa Catarina Xanaguía, a community in the Sierra Sur municipality of San Juan Ozolotepec, while three children are missing in the coastal municipality of Huatulco.

Murat said that some parts of Oaxaca, including Sierra Sur municipalities, were still without power Tuesday night but that service was expected to be reestablished by midnight.

He said Wednesday that homes were damaged during the passing of Agatha – the most powerful hurricane to have made landfall in the Eastern Pacific in May – but acknowledged that a census to assess the damage was only just starting.

Roads and bridges were also damaged and/or cut off by flooding, landslides and fallen trees. Federal highway 200 between Puerto Escondido and Huatulco was one of the affected roads but it reopened on Tuesday.

Among the communities where damage was reported were Zipolite, Mazunte, San Agustinillo and Ventanilla.

In Juan Diegal, a small community in Pochutla, every single home was destroyed, according to a resident.

“There are about 28 families here, all [the houses] were completely destroyed,” Aurora Alonso Bastida told the newspaper El Universal. “Thank God people managed to get out but everything was lost,” she said.

While no human lives were lost in Juan Diegal, located in the higher, inland section of the coastal municipality, some animals succumbed to the powerful storm.

Oaxaca Governor Alejandro Murat reported via video link on the situation in his state to President López Obrador’s regular press conference on Wednesday.

Alonso said that she and other residents, including 12 children, walked two hours amid heavy rain to get to a shelter in the municipal seat of Pochutla.

“We were going to stay. We said: perhaps [the house] will hold up … but the back wall started to come down,” she said, adding that someone could have died if they didn’t get out.

More than 100 people slept Monday night in a shelter set up in a Pochutla cultural center.

“After the hurricane passed, more and more people arrived because they sustained losses or their homes were flooded,” said local official Feliciano Cruz Martínez.

Thousands of soldiers, marines, police, Civil Protection personnel and others were deployed to search for the missing and respond to the damage caused by Agatha, but some parts of Oaxaca are isolated and hard to get to even without the added difficulties created by a hurricane.

Schools in the coastal and Sierra Sur regions of Oaxaca will remain closed until Thursday, education authorities said, while state and municipal authorities are inspecting schools for damage.

Hurricane Agatha made landfall with maximum sustained winds of 165 kilometers per hour and higher gusts but subsequently lost strength.

The National Water Commission (Conagua) said Wednesday that the remnants of Agatha will cause torrential rain Wednesday in Quintana Roo, with rainfall of up to 250 millimeters forecast. Intense rain accumulation of up to 150 mm is forecast in Campeche, Chiapas, Oaxaca, Tabasco and Yucatán, while heavy rainfall of up to 75 mm is predicted for the south of Veracruz.

A NASA image from space shows Agatha bearing down over Oaxaca.
A NASA image from space shows Agatha bearing down over Oaxaca.

“The precipitation could cause landslides, an increase in the levels of rivers and streams and … floods in low-lying areas,” Conagua said in a statement.

“… A low-pressure area associated with the remnants of Agatha increases to 70% the probability for cyclonic development in the 48-hour forecast and … 80% probability in [the next] five days. It’s located on land 75 kilometers west-southwest of Chetumal, Quintana Roo, and is moving toward the northeast.”

With reports from El Universal and EFE 

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