Although the death toll from the mudslides in el Coloso was officially reported at around 200 people and the overall numbers from the storm in general are unclear, the count is still fuzzy at best. “They spread lime all over the streets to cover the smell of the bodies, and keep the rats out”, Mike informed us. “No one is sure what the overall death toll is yet. Every day, the police find another body on the beach that washed out to the sea.”
In late August, Acapulco suffered a 6.2 earthquake that shook the city, damaged buildings and lasted an unheard of 53 seconds. According to Mike, the damage could have been worse, but Mexican structures are typically built of thick concrete walls reinforced with a lot of rebar. The quake was followed with a strong 5.3 aftershock, which further damaged buildings and infrastructure.
If the quake wasn’t enough, just a few weeks later, Acapulco was hit with a tropical storm coming in from the Pacific that was stopped and held in place by the conflicting onslaught of Hurricane Manuel from the Gulf of Mexico. “It rained for five straight days,” Mike continued. “And not just a little rain. It sounded like ball bearings were hitting the roof and air conditioning unit.” The rain flooded streets, shut down electricity and halted the flow of running water. Additionally, the lower level of the Acapulco airport was 5 to 6 feet underwater…leaving 50,000 tourists stranded in the city.
“The flooding was compounded by the presence of two lagoons to the west, and two rivers that run down the mountains to the east that overflowed and overwhelmed the drainage canals.” Mike continued, “Crocodiles were roaming the streets, displaced. I didn’t even know we had crocodiles.” As we rolled through town, the water on the street was still quite deep and Mike was careful to follow VW Bug taxis that knew the roads better than he. As we drove back toward town, the damage from the flooding was apparent. A golf course had been completely torn up and was covered in deep ditches and mounds of dirt.
We headed toward Acapulco’s convention center, the Centro Internacional Acapulco, which still houses hundreds of refugees nearly a month after the deluge. The convention center served as a base of operations as well, and military helicoptors landed there to assist in the effort to pluck folks off their rooftops and get them to higher ground. Although the army wouldn’t let us in, El Gringo saw rows and rows of laundry hanging on lines outside the convention center, and a strong military presence remains in place to assure the continuance of order and the rebuilding of some of Acapulco’s poorest neighborhoods. Entire blocks of people are now bunkering down in the convention center.
“It was amazing how quickly the mayor and local, state and federal governments responded,” Michelle added. “Within three weeks, the water was running again and many of the streets here had been cleared. It also helped that the city installed storm grates on streets to abate flooding after the last hurricane.” As we drove through the streets of Acapulco, Mike pointed out the many drains to us that were installed by local government to help keep flooding to a minimum in Acapulco’s most populated areas.
For a brief time, the Foro Mundial Gastronomia Mexicana (the first annual world forum on Mexican cuisine) was in threat of cancellation. Fortunately, local, state and federal governments and event organizers decided to move forward with the event, which has been a HUGE success this week, keeping El Gringo and thousands of others informed, fed, entertained and excited about the city’s future.
As we headed back to the Mundo Imperial and the conference, we saw dozens of Guerrero state trucks hauling off chunks of concrete and debris in the el Coloso neighborhood, alongside workers busily clearing mud from the streets. Acapulco’s motto is “Acapulco Puede!”, or “Acapulco Can!”. Now that the cartels have moved their operations inland and the city has resumed as a very safe tourist destination, the state government of Guerrero is not about to let bad weather spoil this historic city’s resurgence.
Will the city ever return to it’s former glory of the 50’s and 60’s? As with many things in Mexico, only time will tell the true tale. And if El Gringo’s time in the city is any indication, Acapulco remains a thumping, thriving resort destination with a rich history, heart and the perseverance to make anything possible.
Your Gringo in Mexico,