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Hurricane Manuel hits Mexico; dozens missing after mudslide

By Mariano Castillo and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
updated 10:12 AM EDT, Thu September 19, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Mexico's president describes the damage as "catastrophic"
  • NEW: At least 58 people are missing in a community hit by a mudslide
  • Interior ministry: Rains from storms have killed at least 80
  • Manuel has strengthened into a hurricane

Lea este artículo en español en CNNMexico.com

(CNN) -- Dozens of people are missing after a mudslide that buried homes as Manuel pounded the country's Pacific Coast, Mexico's president said Wednesday.

At least 58 people are unaccounted for in the municipality of Atoyac de Alvarez, Mexican Pesident Enrique Peña Nieto told reporters Wednesday, describing damage there as "catastrophic."

The mayor of Atoyac, which is about 50 miles west of Acapulco, told CNNMexico that 15 bodies had been recovered and at least 70 people remained trapped under mud that buried 20 homes.

Peña Nieto said hundreds of people have been rescued from La Pintada, the community in Atoyac hit by the mudslide. It's unclear how many people remain buried, he said.

Manuel, which strengthened into a hurricane Wednesday evening, was one of three storms bringing devastating deluges and flooding to Mexico. At least 80 people were killed in the storms, Mexico's interior ministry said.

Mexico struggles with massive flooding
At least 57 dead in Mexico after storms

In the Pacific resort city of Acapulco, thousands of tourists were stranded.

A Red Cross rescuer zip lines across a river at the site of a collapsed bridge near the town of Tierra Colorada, Mexico, on Saturday, September 21. At one point this week, Mexico seemed to be pummeled from all sides by then-Hurricane Manuel and the remnants of Hurricane Ingrid. A Red Cross rescuer zip lines across a river at the site of a collapsed bridge near the town of Tierra Colorada, Mexico, on Saturday, September 21. At one point this week, Mexico seemed to be pummeled from all sides by then-Hurricane Manuel and the remnants of Hurricane Ingrid.
Hurricane Manuel hits Mexico
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Storms slam Mexico Storms slam Mexico

"Unfortunately, this took us by surprise," Veronica Garcia told CNN en Español. "It rained uncontrollably. The streets flooded, and we had to stay inside our beach house."

Garcia said her family was stuck on the home's second floor because of flooding. As if that wasn't enough, they had to face an agonizing decision: Who should be rescued?

The Garcias were among some 40,000 tourists left stranded or cut off by weather that has claimed dozens of lives during a holiday weekend.

As the water rose, Garcia and her four family members waited nervously on the upper floor for help, but no rescuers appeared to whisk them to safety.

When local volunteers finally arrived with a small kayak, their relief was short-lived. Rescuers said the boat would only fit two family members.

It was decided that Garcia would be rescued, along with one of her sons.

A second round of agony followed as Garcia spent two days in a shelter before the rest of her family was rescued and everyone was reunited.

The Garcias' story was only one of countless examples of tourists whose vacations were interrupted by severe weather. Mexico was being pummeled from nearly all sides Wednesday as Manuel, the remnants of Hurricane Ingrid and a new area of low pressure threatened most of the country with flooding or rain.

Mexico's interior ministry said Wednesday that the storms are responsible for at least 80 deaths nationwide.

And a state-by-state tally indicates the toll could be higher.

Deadly storms pelt Mexico, trap tourists
Mexico battered by tropical storms

In Guerrero state, where Acapulco is located, officials said at least 72 people were killed.

Heavy rains and widespread flooding from Manuel there caused mudslides that cut off highways and buried homes, Acapulco Mayor Luis Walton told CNN en Español Tuesday night.

"Acapulco is practically incommunicado," he said.

On Wednesday, the rain eased and rescue operations and evacuations of tourists quickened.

Manuel strengthened into a hurricane Wednesday evening and, as of 8 p.m. (11 p.m. ET), was churning with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph about 5 miles (8 km) southwest of the Pacific coastal city of Altata, Mexico, the National Hurricane Center said.

Manuel is expected to produce 5 to 10 inches of rain over the state of Sinaloa, forecasters predicted.

While Manuel cast a shadow over the Pacific Coast, a low pressure area on the Gulf side -- the remnants of Ingrid -- continued to batter the coastal states of Tamaulipas and Veracruz.

Residents there sent photos to CNN showing streets that looked like rivers, with the tops of cars sticking out of the flood waters.

And to the south, over the Yucatan Peninsula, another area of low pressure had a 70% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone within 48 hours, the National Hurricane Center said.

More than 1 million residents across Mexico have been affected in some way by the storms, Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong told reporters.

Acapulco airport operator Centro Norte Airport Group moved its ticketing process to a convention center because of flooding in the passenger terminals.

Several airlines were waiving fees and helping get passengers out as the airport began to operate again.

A break in the rain allowed some 2,000 people to be flown from Acapulco to Mexico City as of Tuesday night.

Mexico City resident Edgar Nava was one of them.

When he arrived in Acapulco Friday and asked about the rains, he said police told him everything was fine. But Nava told CNNMexico he spent four nights terrified and trapped by flooding in an apartment with three friends.

He flew out of Acapulco on a military airplane that evacuated tourists on Tuesday, leaving his car behind in the resort city.

"I never imagined it would be like this .... There is no way to take the highway," he said. "Later I will have to figure out how to come back to get it."

The Acapulco city government said some 40,000 tourists had been stranded in the resort destination. The government set up special hotlines to help tourists, and businesses were offering special discounts for those who found themselves stuck.

"The aid is flowing," Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto told reporters. "A large deployment (of resources) is being made specifically to the most affected areas."

The severe weather made it difficult for aid to be airlifted into the hardest-hit areas, but those efforts resumed Wednesday, he said.

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18 stranded in New Mexico 'ghost town' amid flooding

CNN's Shasta Darlington, Brian Walker, Catherine E. Shoichet and Marysabel Huston-Crespo and CNNMexico's Laura Reyes contributed to this report.

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