GUERRERO, Mexico., October 26, 2023—Hurricane Otis – a category five in strength- made landfall in Acapulco, Mexico Wednesday, October 26, claiming the lives of at least 39 with far more still missing. However, because internet and cell service are still out, the death toll could be much higher.
“I am devastated by the impact of Hurricane Otis in my home state of Guerreo,” Lynnwood City Councilwoman said on social media Wednesday. “My thoughts and prayers go to everyone affected.”
Acapulco is a coastal city within the Mexican state of Guerrero of which the city of Chilpancingo, Lynnwood’s sister city, also resides about two hours inland. It is known for its beachside resorts, surrounding Sierra Madre del Sur mountains, its vibrant nightlife and golf courses.
Hurricane #Otis made a historic landfall near Acapulco, Mexico, on Wednesday after rapidly intensifying from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane just hours before reaching the coast. pic.twitter.com/C0cViBjFcI
— AccuWeather (@accuweather) October 27, 2023
Hurricane Otis is the strongest hurricane to hit Mexico’s Pacific Coast in history with record-breaking winds reaching 165 miles-per-hour, decimating the city’s buildings, cutting electricity and communication, bending metal street signs, and unleashing massive flooding that has left the resort city in a state of chaos spurring looting and leaving tens of thousands of dollars in damages.
With a population of just over one million people, Hurricane Otis may also have set the record for the largest number of people experiencing a category 5 storm in history, according to Jeff Masters, Hurricane Scientist for NOA Hurricane Hunters and Co-Founder of Weather Underground.
It was also the first time an Eastern Pacific hurricane made landfall at Category five intensity. Before Hurricane Otis, the largest hurricane to sweep through Acapulco was a category four – Hurricane Patricia – in 2015.
🚨 Luego de que el huracán Otis dejara sin energía, alimentos o comida a miles de guerrerenses, se ha reportado el vaciado de tiendas de autoservicio.
🔴 En redes sociales circulan videos donde se ve a personas entrar a los supermercados y toda todo tipo de objetos. pic.twitter.com/wYkdPpdb7j
— El Sol de México (@elsolde_mexico) October 28, 2023
In 1997 Hurricane Pauline swept through Acapulco, destroying much of the city and killing 300 people. Hurricane Pauline was only a category four.
Andrés Manuel, Mexico’s President, took to X (formerly Twitter) urging the public to stay away from water and seek shelter.
“A nightmare scenario is unfolding for southern Mexico this evening with rapidly intensifying Otis approaching the coastline,” the National Hurricane Center said during its forecast Tuesday night. “This is an extremely serious situation for the Acapulco metropolitan area with the core of the destructive hurricane likely to come near or over that large city early on Wednesday. There are no hurricanes on record even close to this intensity for this part of Mexico.”
Información sobre Acapulco. pic.twitter.com/Tz2uMGqc30
— Andrés Manuel (@lopezobrador_) October 28, 2023
In just 24 hours Hurricane Otis rapidly grew from a tropical storm to a full-fledged hurricane making predictions and preparations difficult. Climate change-driven factors were likely the reason for its exponential growth, experts say, due to warming ocean temperatures.
A report published earlier this month found that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in the warming of oceans, is causing tropical cyclones to intensify at rates never before seen before. In the modern era (2010 through 2020) tropical storms are likely to increase by at least 50 knots (about 57 miles per hour) in 24 hours, far more likely than similar increases in 36 hours from 1971 through 1990.
“It’s one thing to have a Category 5 hurricane make landfall somewhere when you’re expecting it or expecting a strong hurricane, but to have it happen when you’re not expecting anything to happen is truly a nightmare,” Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami, told Reporters with the Associated Press.
As of this morning Acapulco is still fairly inaccessible by road with tossed cars, debris, and mud caking the streets which had been swallowed under muddy water just a day before. The major highway into Apapulco – which connects to Chilpancingo – was blocked most of Wednesday by landslide restricting emergency services and necessary supplies to those trapped inside.
A resident living in Acapulco told the Associated Press in a satellite phone interview, provided by the Red Cross, the worst of the storm was from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. when “windows began to fall, floors broke up, mattresses flew, hallways collapsed, doors fell down … until everything was gone.”
Though the storm had mostly passed by Wednesday afternoon the devastation left in its wake is still apparent. Heavy rainfall, as a result of the hurricane, is still predicted to last through Thursday reaching between four and six inches. The rainfall is predicted to cause additional flash and urban flooding as well as mudslides in higher areas of the region.
Power has been restored to approximately 40% of the 1.37 million electricity customers in Guerrero, the Federal Electricity Commission said. At the storm’s peak more than 500,000 power outages were reported, according to FOX Weather.
About 7,000 military personnel have been deployed in the area with over 1,200 more on their way. Both Acapulco’s commercial and military airports are still too badly damaged to resume flights.