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People in Acapulco are trying to pick up the pieces after Hurricane Otis

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Hurricane Otis was the most powerful storm of its type in Mexico's recorded history. It quickly grew from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane that caught an entire region by surprise and left stunning devastation. So far, dozens of people are known to be dead, and dozens more are still missing. And while authorities ramp up their response, NPR's Eyder Peralta reports on the people trying to pick up the pieces.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAVES CRASHING)

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Renald Rucci sits, staring blankly at the Acapulco Bay in front of him. Everything around him is destroyed. The supermarkets, the hotels, the gas stations - they crumbled like paper. And the dozens of boats that usually float in this bay - they're gone.

RENALD RUCCI: My friends are gone. Quite a few of them are gone now.

PERALTA: All the fishermen he hangs out with are missing. Rucci splits his time between Canada and Mexico. You have to be here, he says, to understand what really happened. He couldn't save his two dogs.

RUCCI: I was holding on to those metal posts in my windows just - 'cause we live above. And my dogs just were flying. And the sofa and the furniture and the fridge and - I don't know. I don't know. It was quite the experience.

PERALTA: And as we talk, rescue workers on the bay pull out one more body. They lay it on the beach next to another body discovered earlier. They cover it with a green and red tarp. And a dreadful ritual begins. Families looking for missing loved ones surround the body. Detectives lift the tarp to reveal an already putrefied corpse. The family members cry, hold T-shirts over their face for the smell, for the shock.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: One woman says he's a little darker than her brother. Olivio Duran Zelaya realizes quickly it is not his 25-year-old nephew, who stayed on his boat the night of the hurricane. He was guarding his livelihood.

OLIVIO DURAN ZELAYA: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: "I imagine they thought the hurricane wouldn't be bad," he says. He looks at the two bodies again.

ZELAYA: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: "It's been three or four days," he says. "There's no hope he's alive." Across the city, this is what we find - people wandering the streets aimlessly, trying to figure out what just happened. They stand in front of hospitals. They wave their phones at the sky, hoping for signal.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN BEEPING)

PERALTA: I find Antonia Hernandez carrying a bag of juices that she has just taken from a supermarket. And as soon as we make eye contact, she cries.

ANTONIA HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish, crying).

PERALTA: "You should have seen my house," she says. "It was chaos. Everything was thrown about. Everything was floating."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUD BUBBLING)

PERALTA: We walked together, and it seems everyone is looting. Everything is caked in mud. Massive trees are twisted around cars. Hernandez's neighbors are all standing outside in awe of the disaster, in awe that they've survived.

ANA LAURA DOMINGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: "But look. We're alive," Ana Laura Dominguez says.

DOMINGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: "We're alive thanks to God," she says. "Up there, people drowned. But we are alive." Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Acapulco, Mexico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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