CIUDAD ACUNA, Mexico (Reuters) - At least 13 people died and dozens more were injured after a freak tornado ripped through the northern Mexican city of Ciudad Acuna on Monday morning, flipping over cars and tearing down homes, the government said.
Among the dead were three children as the whirlwind damaged an estimated 750 homes in the city across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, Texas, said Jesus Garcia, spokesman for the local state of Coahuila.
Walls and ceilings collapsed under the force of the whirlwind, which traveled at a speed of some 31 mph (50 km per hour) and blew gusts over 124 mph, the government said, taking the border city unawares in the early hours of Monday.
President Enrique Pena Nieto viewed the damage wrought by the tornado from both the air and ground level late on Monday.
“This was a surprise event with no alert whatsoever from a satellite or any other kind of system that monitors these kinds of events,” he said during a briefing with local, state and federal officials.
The tornado’s path of destruction stretched for 1.1 miles (1.8 km) through the city.
“We’re not used to such destruction,” Ciudad Acuna’s mayor Evaristo Lenin Perez told local radio. “We don’t have records of a single tornado in Acuna, a 110-year-old city.”
“Most of the dead are people who were outside, not people who were inside their homes.”
The number of injured stood at 290 people, while 44 remain hospitalized, according to the health ministry.
A spokesman for the National Meteorological Service said it was the strongest tornado for at least 15 years in Mexico. Preliminary findings suggested it registered between a grade EF2 and EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, power outages hit about 4,900 users in the area, according to national electricity utility CFE, while full restoration is expected by the middle of the week.
After the twister had swept through the city, photos showed children climbing past mangled cars that had been swept into their homes, while adults salvaged valuables from the rubble.
Authorities have set up seven refuge points for those whose houses were destroyed, the Coahuila government said.
“We’re working on clearing the debris of the destroyed buildings and cars that were displaced,” said Francisco Martinez, the deputy minister for Civil Protection in Coahuila.
Coahuila’s governor Ruben Moreira arrived this afternoon in Acuna, which had a population of around 134,000 in 2010, and promised authorities will lead the city’s recovery.
Reporting by Luis Rojas, Max De Haldevang, Gabriela Lopez and David Alire Garcia; Editing by Peter Galloway, Marguerita Choy, Diane Craft and Simon Cameron-Moore