SAN JOSE DEL CABO (Reuters) - Thousands of tourists were stranded in the storm-battered Mexican Pacific resort of Los Cabos on Thursday, with water in short supply and looted stores sitting empty as a new hurricane threatened to buffet the popular tourist hub.
Odile churned into the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula on Sunday as a Category 3 hurricane, wreaking havoc on a scenic area popular with U.S sun seekers that has rarely witnessed such devastation.
Two people died after trying to cross a flooded stream in the area of Santa Rosalia, officials said.
By Thursday, 15,000 tourists had been airlifted out of the area, Mexico’s Ministry of Transport and Communications said. But just as many remained trapped and bottled water was being rushed in with other emergency supplies.
The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City said it was working with U.S. and Mexican airlines to get U.S. tourists out of the area on special flights. It urged stranded tourists to head to the San Jose del Cabo airport, or the airport in La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur state.
For those still trapped, the usually dry and pleasant resort region of Los Cabos had turned into a disaster zone. Television images on Wednesday showed looters making off with everything from beer to bicycles from supermarkets in San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas.
The few shops that opened on Thursday were protected by people armed with bats and sticks. There was no money in ATMs and no telephone service.
In La Paz, hundreds of houses were damaged and local people ripped out drain pipes to access water.
“We don’t have water for the toilet, to prepare food,” said La Paz resident Isabel Aguirre. “We organized ourselves and came because we need to get water.”
The Mexican government said it had sent 1,500 federal police officers to prevent looting in the area, where people walked through streets strewn with toppled electricity pylons.
“We’re going to cover the streets, the neighborhoods, to give people security and so we don’t see these types of unfortunate actions committed for which there is no justification,” Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said on local television on Wednesday night.
Tropical storm Polo became a Category 1 hurricane off Mexico’s Pacific coast on Wednesday night, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
It is currently 465 miles (748 kilometers) southeast of the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, moving northwest at 8 miles per hour (13 kph).
Polo is expected to weaken over the next 24 hours, the NHC said, but it added that “interests in the southern portion of the Baja California peninsula should monitor” the storm, which is already blowing winds up to 75 mph (121 kph).
Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Simon Gardner, Toni Reinhold