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Acapulco, Mexico (AFP) Sept 17, 2013
Mexican officials launched an airlift to evacuate tens of thousands of tourists stranded in the flooded resort of Acapulco on Tuesday following a pair of deadly major storms.
The official death toll rose to 47 after the tropical storms, Ingrid and Manuel, swarmed large swaths of the country during a three-day holiday weekend, sparking landslides and causing rivers to overflow in several states.
The two main highways to Acapulco were blocked by landslides while the road to the airport was under water, isolating the Pacific coast city of 680,000 people.
Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong warned that it would take two to three days to reopen the two highways out of Acapulco.
The terminal remained closed but passengers were driven directly to the runway from a concert hall that was turned into a shelter and operations center for the airlines.
The military and the airlines Aeromexico and Interjet began to fly people to Mexico City, with officials estimating that 40,000 domestic and foreign beachgoers are marooned in hotels.
Some 2,000 people stood in line at the World Imperial Forum with luggage in hand, hoping to get a seat on a flight at an improvised airline counter.
"We're deciding whether we return by plane or wait for the road to open, but the problem is food," said Andres Guerra Gutierrez, a Mexico City resident who arrived by car with 14 family members last Friday and was now waiting in line.
"It was a weather phenomenon but they should have warned us that a storm was coming, so we could at least buy food," he said.
Valentin Mario Calderon, who was staying at the Mayan Palace Hotel with his wife and three nephews, managed to get on a flight leaving Tuesday.
"From dawn on Saturday, you couldn't see the ocean and there was a lot of wind and the windows shook," Calderon recalled. "The deluge came Sunday. We thought a tsunami was coming and we put our faith in god."
Osorio Chong said the weather systems, which have now dissipated, affected 254 towns nationwide, forced 39,000 people to evacuate, caused 100 rivers to overflow and killing at least 47 people.
It was the first time since 1958 that two storms hit the country almost at the same time.
The southwestern state of Guerrero endured four days of non-stop rain that flooded more than half of Acapulco, according to municipal officials.
Authorities have used boats, amphibious vehicles and helicopters to rescue people who took refuge on upper floors or roofs of their homes after waters rose as high as 10 feet (three meters) in some neighborhoods.
Some residents used jetskis to move around while the rising waters even brought out crocodiles, complicating the rescue missions.
Navy and army aircraft took more than 500 people to Mexico City, Osorio Chong said.
Aeromexico said it would transport almost 2,000 to the capital over the next two days while Interjet did not release a figure.
Interjet's president, Miguel Aleman Magnani, said on Twitter that the carrier was first attending to passengers with previous reservations while others would be able to buy tickets for $77. Aeromexico was offering a special fair of $115.
The first military flight carrying aid landed late Monday.
Manuel struck the Pacific coast on Sunday while Ingrid weakened from hurricane to tropical storm strength as it made landfall on the northeastern coast on Monday.
Although the storms have waned, authorities have warned that an emergency remains in place in Guerrero and the eastern state of Veracruz.
Guerrero Governor Angel Aguirre estimated that the damage has cost his impoverished state $380 million.
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