Storm death toll rising in Mexico

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ACAPULCO, Mexico -- The toll from devastating twin storms climbed to 80 Wednesday as isolated areas reported deaths and damage to the outside world, and Mexican officials said a massive landslide in the mountains north of the resort of Acapulco could drive the number of confirmed dead even higher.

Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said federal authorities had reached the cutoff village of La Pintada by helicopter and had airlifted out 35 residents, four of whom were seriously injured in the slide. Officials have not yet seen any bodies, he said, despite reports from area residents that at least 18 people had been killed.

"It doesn't look good, based on the photos we have in our possession," Mr. Osorio Chong said, while noting that "up to this point, we do not have any [confirmed] as dead in the landslide." He told local media that "this is a very powerful landslide, very big. ... You can see that it hit a lot of houses."

Mayor Edilberto Tabares of the township of Atoyac told Milenio television that 18 bodies had been recovered and possibly many more remained buried in the remote mountain village. Atoyac, a largely rural township about 42 miles west of Acapulco, is accessible only by a highway broken multiple times by landslides and flooding.

Federal Department of Civil Protection spokesman Ricardo de la Cruz said the death toll had risen to 80, from 60 earlier in the day, but did not offer details on what reports drove it up.

In Acapulco, three days of rain and leaden skies evaporated into broiling late-summer sunshine that roasted thousands of furious tourists trying vainly to escape the city, and hundreds of thousands of residents returning to homes devastated by reeking tides of brown floodwater.

The depth of the destruction wreaked by Tropical Storm Manuel hit residents and visitors with full force as Mexico's transportation secretary said Friday would be the soonest that authorities could clear the parallel highways that connect this bayside resort to Mexico City and the rest of the world.

Hundreds of residents of Acapulco's poor outlying areas slogged through waist-high water to pound on closed shutters of a looted Costco, desperate for food, drinking water and other basics. Many paused and fished in the murky waters for anything of value, piling waterlogged clothing and empty aluminum cans into plastic bags.

"If we can't work, we have to come and get something to eat," said fisherman Anastasio Barrera, 60, as he stood with his wife outside the store. "The city government isn't doing anything for us, and neither is the state government."

Manuel re-formed into a tropical storm Wednesday, threatening to bring more flooding to the country's northern coast. With a tropical disturbance over the Yucatan Peninsula headed toward Mexico's Gulf coast, the country could face another double hit as it struggles to restore services and evacuate those stranded by flooding from Manuel and Hurricane Ingrid, which hit the Gulf coast over the weekend.

Mexico's federal Civil Protection coordinator, Luis Felipe Puente, said 35,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.

Elsewhere in the verdant coastal countryside of the southern state of Guerrero, residents turned motorboats into improvised ferries, shuttling passengers, boxes of fruit and jugs of water across rivers that surged and ripped bridges from their foundations over the weekend.

Outside the town of Lomas de Chapultepec, the Papagayo River surged more than 30 feet during the peak of Manuel's flooding, overturning a bridge that stretched hundreds of feet across the river's mouth.

In Acapulco's upscale Diamond Zone, the military commandeered a commercial center to provide for tourists trying to get aboard one of the military or commercial flights that remained the only way out of the city. Thousands lined up outside the mall's locked gates, begging for a seat on a military flight or demanding that airline Aeromexico honor a previously purchased ticket.

"We don't even have money left to buy water," said Tayde Sanchez Morales, a retired electric company worker from the city of Puebla. "The hotel threw us out, and we're going to stay here and sleep here until they throw us out of here."

A lucky few held up ransacked beach umbrellas against the sun as temperatures soared.

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