They came looking for a better life, and met death from Pauline
ACAPULCO, Mexico (AP) _ Many of those living in the slums perilously perched on the hills surrounding Acapulco Bay had come from other places in Mexico looking for a better life in this sunny Pacific beach resort.
``They came looking for work, but they found death,″ Rodolfina Soriano said, gazing at the disaster delivered by Hurricane Pauline.
Nearly 200 people have been reported killed in Guerrero state and neighboring Oaxaca, officials said. At least 150 of the deaths occurred here, in Mexico’s most popular resort city.
In Mexico City, Red Cross officials denied news reports that the agency was saying the hurricane had caused about 400 deaths. Jose Barroso Chavez, president of the Mexican Red Cross, said the figure may have been an estimate in an agency contingency plan. ``There has been a certain amount of confusion over this,″ he said.
President Ernesto Zedillo cut short a state visit to Germany and returned to Mexico today, the state-run Notimex news agency reported. The agency said he arrived this morning in Acapulco and was planning to take a helicopter flight over the disaster zone before heading on to Huatulco on neighboring Oaxaca’s storm damaged coast.
Pauline’s furious winds and drenching rains peeled off large sections of rock and mud from the hills surrounding Acapulco. Rivers of mud and rocks roared downhill before dawn Thursday, burying everything in their path, sweeping up residents still in their beds.
The death toll was expected to rise as neighbors and rescue workers pulled more bodies out of the thick mud. Farmers from nearby villages cut off by the disaster have been trudging as far as 10 miles to report their dead.
Drizzling rain still fell Friday night, and mud continued flowing through this Pacific Ocean resort favored by American and Canadian tourists. No foreigners have been reported among the victims.
Cars and other vehicles lay smashed or buried in mud. Houses lay tipped on their sides. Uprooted trees were tangled with downed power lines and broken utility poles, and crews and volunteers toiled to clean up the debris.
Some supermarkets opened, and so did the airport. But schools and many businesses remained closed.
The morgue was full, so bodies waiting for identification lay in half-flooded schools, one-room shacks and funeral parlors. The Guerrero state government was supplying free caskets. Some residents, however, were foregoing any formalities, one witness said.
``People are pulling out their dead, burying them, without notifying anyone. We’ll never know how many really died,″ Guadalupe Avila Herrera said as she looked across the angry, muddy torrent that cut her hillside neighborhood in half.
The official death toll is partial and incomplete, conceded Felix Gonzalez of the city mayor’s office, without elaborating.
Soriano identified herself as the leader of the ravaged Palma Sola-El Lider neighborhoods. As she spoke, rescue workers pulled three more bodies from the Camarones River which had overflowed its banks.
Forty-eight of the shacks in Palma Sola were swept away by mud and rain, the rest were damaged. Those shacks could be seen today, toppled or dangling in the Camarones River.
The Palma Sola-El Lider neighborhoods are illegal settlements of about 150 squatter families. Soriana said the families each paid authorities a bribe of about $640 for a 400-square-foot lot. These one-time dues allowed the squatters to erect their tarpaper shacks.
There is a little electricity and no tap water. Residents dig their own latrines.
``They were squatters looking for a free lot. They were exploited by other people,″ said Javier Pardilla, whose damaged house overlooks one of the camps.
Acapulco’s middle-class neighborhoods also suffered heavy damage. Esteban Rodin, who works as a chauffeur, said he woke up and found the floodwaters had dumped a Volkswagen Beetle in the back room of his house.
Rodin and his son were digging through the 3 feet of mud and sand choking their living room.
``We haven’t received any help from the government so far,″ Rodin said. Like many others he complained the government warned people about the hurricane only one hour before it arrived.
``Why didn’t they declare a state of emergency a day before, when they knew the storm was coming?″ said Carolina Herrera, whose home in the low-lying Renacimiento neighborhood was flooded.