Local News

Mexico in Mourning as More Dead Are Pulled From the Mud on the Hurricane-Ravaged Coast

Posted October 10, 1997

— Survivors told of ``a horrible roar'' of floodwaters that swept away whole families and workers dug into muck 10 feet deep in a hunt for the victims of Hurricane Pauline's rampage. The bodies, some found in pajamas, piled up in morgues Friday as the death toll rose to at least 141.

More than 6,500 army troops were ordered into areas ravaged by the hurricane. Aid groups appealed for drinking water, medicine, food, blankets and other supplies for the thousands of Mexicans up and down the coast who have been left homeless.

Hundreds of military doctors and nurses joined local health workers in treating survivors in Acapulco. The Pacific Coast resort was caught off-guard Thursday when the hurricane skirted the city but unleashed rains that set off widespread flash floods that swept sleeping people, cars, even giant boulders down hills toward the city's famed beaches. Waves up to 30 feet tall gouged up the beaches themselves.

The dead included at least 113 people in Acapulco, said Oscar Pina Camara, a health official for Guerrero state. Authorities said the toll was rounded out by nine other deaths in Guerrero and 19 in neighboring Oaxaca state, where the hurricane began its march up hundreds of miles of seaboard on Wednesday. No foreign tourists were reported killed or injured.

More rain sent a foot of muddy floodwaters into low-lying streets of Acapulco on Friday, but with none of the ferocity of the previous day. Many feared that concrete culverts filled with 10 feet of muck, debris and tree trunks could hold more of the bodies claimed by Pauline, which weakened to a tropical depression Friday as it broke apart inland up the coast.

``There will probably be more deaths,'' President Ernesto Zedillo acknowledged from Berlin, where he cut short a state visit to fly home Friday. Zedillo rejected criticism that his government had reacted too slowly to Pauline, noting he had immediately ordered in troops.

``Of course we've got problems of communications, some roads were interrupted,'' he said. ``But I think we have reacted effectively to the extent possible under the circumstances.''

Rescuers digging out bodies from mud and collapsed buildings brought them to the local morgue, where 65 bodies were laid out for identification - some of the corpses contorted and dressed in night clothes.

Grieving relatives filed in all day seeking loved ones.

``I lost my son, my daughter-in-law and their 2-year-old baby,'' said Marta Alvarez, a 48-year-old grandmother who barely escaped the floodwaters that roared down these hills before dawn Thursday.

``The water came with a horrible roar. I couldn't get out. My husband pulled me by the hand. But we couldn't save my son,'' said the woman, who fled waist-high currents raging around her adobe home.

She said they had no inkling of the danger. ``We're so poor we don't even have a television set,'' she explained.

Jose Hernandez, 27, was at the morgue looking for the body of a 45-year-old friend, Trinidad Miranda. ``The pavement buckled ... and the water swallowed her up,'' he said.

``People realized it was serious ... when it was already too late,'' said Maximo Salazar, 53, as backhoes pushed crumpled cars out of the muck, some buried up to their windshields.

Thousands of people along the coast have been left homeless.

From resorts of Acapulco to Huatulco, and small communities in between, army troops moved in Friday. Dozens of soldiers shoveled sand away after an impromptu river ran through the main strip of the battered tourist town of Puerto Angel, Oaxaca.

Puerto Angel - where Pauline first hit land Wednesday - was packed Friday with hundreds of homeless seeking government handouts of food and water.

Scores of small towns saw homes destroyed across hundreds of miles of coast during Pauline, which drove 30-foot waves against exposed beaches and raked away thatch and makeshift homes with 120-mph winds at first landfall.

Some foreign visitors had harrowing experiences.

Luz Sivory, a 19-year-old from Argentina, hung on to her 22-year-old Mexican boyfriend Oscar Solis, who was braced in a beach house doorway.

``First we saw the roof fly off. Then the walls went one by one. We were left standing in the doorway with no house around us,'' said Solis. ``We didn't know if we were going to survive.''

In the sand, a heavy six-wheel army halftrack sat upside down, overturned by the storm's fury.

Will Quillian, 27, and his girlfriend Katherine Proctor, 28, both of Seattle, were on a ``one-year adventure'' traveling through Latin America when the hurricane caught them in the town of San Agustin. They said it was a shame so much of the picturesque coast, dotted by palms, crescent bays and stunning mountain backdrops, had been laid to waste.

``This little town was the most beautiful place .... and now there is nothing,'' said Proctor, a kindergarten teacher who hid in a cement bathroom of a house to survive.

By MARK STEVENSON,Associated Press Writer Copyright ©1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.

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