Jeff Masters Weather Blog

A month after » Yale Climate Connections

On November 16, people gathered at Marina Acapulco on Mexico’s Pacific Coast for a remembrance mass for missing loved ones.

Once considered a safe port for boats up to 200 feet long, the waters surrounding the marina turned into a graveyard October 25 when Hurricane Otis made landfall in Acapulco, damaging and sinking boats.

“The government is not looking for them,” Susana Ramos said in Spanish during the service as tears rolled down her face. Ramos’s husband and sons disappeared in the storm, along with dozens of others. The mass was held for 10 confirmed dead and 21 others still missing.

Ramos said the government doesn’t care about her missing family members “forgotten in the sea.”

“All the government cares about is fixing Acapulco so that it makes money in December,” she said.

What was the death toll for Hurricane Otis?

One month after Otis, the official death toll for the hurricane is 48, but the true number of lives lost may be more than 350.

For a death to be counted officially, survivors must submit paperwork. People who lost everything in the storm most likely don’t have that documentation. And many don’t have the money to hold a funeral, so many of the dead are being buried in unofficial cemeteries, as Mexican newspaper El Economista reported.

How much damage did Hurricane Otis cause?

More than 1 million people needed assistance as of October 31, according to a UNICEF report released last month. UNICEF also reported that 33 schools and 120 hospitals had been damaged.

Severe damage to infrastructure has made relief efforts and communication difficult.

Nearly a month after the release of the UNICEF report, families are still living under tarps and can’t access clean water, Mexican news channels reported.

The number of children who don’t have access to education is set to skyrocket. One report says that 70% of children in Guerrero, the state where Acapulco is located, are at risk of an academic lag. Even before the storm, 10% of children between the ages of 3 and 14 did not attend school in Guerrero.

News reports from Mexican news channels show garbage and wreckage caused by the hurricane piled high along the streets of the city, causing poor sanitary conditions.

Businesses in Acapulco are reopening, with many hotels aiming to accept tourists at least to some capacity for the upcoming holiday season in December. The president of the Mexican Hotel Association said that 31 of Acapulco’s hotels had reopened in an interview for MVS Noticias earlier this month.

But the future is uncertain for some as people and businesses wait for government assistance.

The Mexican government has promised funds and support for the victims of the hurricane. But many residents express concern that politicians are more worried about rebuilding hotels and getting the tourism-based economy back up and running than caring for the people who live in the area. Guerrero has the lowest transparency score in the country for government finances, according to the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness.

Why was Hurricane Otis so damaging?

As Oscar Ocampo, the energy and environment coordinator at the Centro de Investigación en Política Pública, wrote in The Guardian, after years of poor urban planning, violence, and corruption, the high-rise hotels along the waterfront and the hilly neighborhoods that surround the coast were extremely susceptible to Otis’ high winds. On top of that, Mexico had its hottest September on record — a trend consistent with human-caused climate change — which meant that the waters surrounding the area gave Otis massive amounts of energy.

Higher temperatures, along with a jet stream just to the north of the storm, created the conditions to supercharge Otis from a tropical storm with 65 mph winds to a Category 5 hurricane with gusts over 200 mph within 12 hours.

There has been criticism both at the state and business level for the lack of urgency to evacuate the area. Mexican newspaper El Universal reported that people staying at hotels were not told anything about the hurricane by hotel management.

Only one hurricane hunter, an aircraft that collects weather data, flew into Otis before it made landfall, which meant that no one had a complete picture of the kind of storm the state of Guerrero was facing. As Yale Climate Connections meteorologist Jeff Masters put it, had Otis formed in the Atlantic, there would have been more warning. “Mexican hurricanes in the Pacific just don’t get as much coverage,” Masters said on Fox Weather.

What now?

How well the Mexican government responds to this disaster will likely play a role in the country’s elections slated to take place in June 2024. Considering the protests that have already taken place in and around the city, as well as the overall rhetoric online, it is likely that the current government might not do well.

The destruction from Otis does bring with it an opportunity for the city to be built back better. Ocampo of the Centro de Investigación en Política Pública wrote that the reconstruction of the city is an opportunity to correct the historical mistakes that have long undermined Guerrero and Acapulco. This is the time to develop infrastructure that will make the city resilient while facing a warming world that will supercharge more storms, he wrote.

After the mass November 16, the family members of those lost to Hurricane Otis threw white roses in the harbor, symbols of hope to be reunited with their lost loved ones. The road to recovery and healing will be long for alcapulqueños. May they not be forgotten by the Mexican government or the rest of the world.

How to help

Here are three organizations that have been verified to have boots on the ground in Acapulco and the surrounding areas that were affected by Hurricane Otis:

La Cruz Roja Méxicana

World Central Kitchen

Unidos por Ellos

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