Monday, April 15, 2024

After Hurricane Otis, Acapulco faces a daunting recovery

The cost of damage caused by Hurricane Otis is likely around US $15 billion, according to a United States-based research company.

Otis slammed into the Pacific coast near Acapulco as a Category 5 hurricane early on Wednesday, causing extensive damage in the resort city and other parts of Guerrero.

Acapulco has been heavily damaged by the storm and is in need of significant humanitarian aid. The current death toll stands at 27. (Dassaev Téllez Adame/Cuartoscuro)

On Thursday morning, the federal government reported a preliminary death toll of 27, with four additional people missing. The number of confirmed fatalities remained at 27 on Friday morning, but it appears inevitable that the death toll will rise.

Enki Research, a Georgia-based company that tracks storms and models the cost of their damage, said in a blog post that damage from Otis “is likely approaching $15 billion US dollars.”

The government has not yet estimated the cost of damage caused by Otis, but has announced a budget of 35 billion pesos (US $1.9 billion) to respond to the disaster. That amount could prove to be inadequate if the cost of the damage is indeed as high as Enki estimates.

President López Obrador has this week faced criticism for the 2021 abolition of the disaster relief fund Fonden (a public trust), which he described as “a kind of petty cash box for officials.”

Photos from the city show the extent of the damage to buildings.(Rogelio Morales/Cuartoscuro)

In Acapulco, the hurricane caused major damage to hotels, stores, restaurants, shopping centers, apartment buildings and houses, toppled electricity transmission towers, destroyed cars and boats and provoked widespread flooding.

Otis also caused significant damage in other municipalities of Guerrero, such as Coyuca de Benítez, which borders Acapulco to the north.

Chuck Watson, the director of Enki Research, said that “nearly 3 million people experienced tropical storm force winds,” and many of that number faced winds of around 270 km/h when Otis made landfall shortly after midnight Wednesday.

Watson noted that the strength of the hurricane’s winds went from 60 miles per hour (96 km/h) to 170 mph (273 km/h) in the space of a day.

Nearby Coyuca de Benitez was also heavily affected by Hurricane Otis. (FerrZCoyuk/X)

“That’s a tropical storm to Category Five in 24 hours and [Otis] made a direct hit on the port and resort area” of Acapulco, he wrote.

“To put that in context, remember wind energy is the square of wind speed, so while the winds were three times higher, that is nine times more energy in the peak wind! The impact on damage is even more dramatic — while 60 mph winds typically cause only limited damage to roofs and weaker structures, 170 mph wind causes catastrophic damage, completely destroying even reinforced buildings,” Watson said.

The Acapulco hotel association said Thursday that 80% of hotels in the city sustained damage. The iconic Princess Hotel was among them.

Photos and video footage showed the lobby filled with waterlogged mattresses, wooden furniture and debris. A white SUV also somehow made it into the lobby of the beachfront hotel.

Damage to hotels will only exacerbate economic losses as it will inevitably be some time before they are ready to once again welcome tourists. Acapulco’s high season for tourism is December to March.

López Obrador said Thursday that federal authorities will meet with hoteliers and business people on Monday with a view to “reestablishing tourism activities in Acapulco as soon as possible.”

President López Obrador has assured business owners that their losses will also be accounted for in the final tally. (Dassaev Téllez Adame/Cuartoscuro)

The president, who made it to Acapulco by road on Wednesday night, also said that the Welfare Ministry will carry out a damage census to determine who qualifies for federal funds. Home and business owners will be taken into account, he said.

“We’re going to help with a reconstruction and home improvement program,” López Obrador said.

He said Friday that “we have to get Acapulco back on its feet as soon as possible because it’s a tourism symbol,” adding that “we’re not going to stop until normality returns and the port is recovered.”

With reports from El País and Bloomberg 

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