Residents of Mexico’s Los Cabos resort armed themselves with guns and machetes in hurricane-battered neighborhoods to defend their homes from looters, as troops were deployed.
The government sent extra federal police and soldiers to the Baja California peninsula to counter widespread looting that erupted after Hurricane Odile tore down homes earlier this week.
Officials also confirmed the first two deaths from the storm, a 62-year-old South Korean mining executive missing since his car was swept away by floods and a German who died of a heart attack in a boat. A second South Korean remains missing.
The US embassy urged its citizens still trapped in Los Cabos to rush to the local airport “during daylight hours” to catch an airlift organized to rescue thousands of stranded tourists.
Some 15,000 of the 30,000 tourists have been evacuated so far.
Chaos took over this week as hundreds helped themselves to food, water, televisions and any goods they could grab in supermarkets and retail stores after Odile knocked out power and flattened homes.
But now residents fear their houses are next, amid reports of armed and masked gangs roaming neighborhoods.
Dressed in white and holding everything from bats to machetes, sticks and rocks, residents burned tires and wood.
“We are keeping watch over dark streets from the second floor, with hundreds of flashlights from neighbors looking for the enemy,” said Juan Antonio Carbajal Figueroa, one of the watchmen in the Lomas de San Jose residential neighborhood.
Another man named Eduardo, 27, was guarding the street with a metal bar.
“We are dressed in white because we are citizens of peace, but we won’t allow anybody to loot our homes,” he said.
Rodrigo Sanchez Villa, a lawyer for a hotel group, told local radio that masked gangs were pillaging shops, hotels and houses in Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.
“The situation appears to be getting worse all the time. A lack of security is being added to the problem of shortages of food and water and the lack of local authorities,” he said.
But Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said authorities had “absolute control in terms of security” and that the military delivered tonnes of supplies including drinking water.
At least seven suspected looters were detained, federal police said.
Baja California Sur Governor Marcos Alberto Covarrubias said police checkpoints would be set up to prevent “groups of criminals” from reaching the state capital, La Paz.
The state’s chief prosecutor, Adonai Carreon Estrada, said at least 1,000 gendarmerie and military forces arrived Wednesday but that residents in up to 15 neighborhoods had organized their own security.
The storm caused nearly $1 billion in damage, according to the Mexican Insurance Institutions Association.
Authorities were scrambling to restore electricity, with 75 percent of Los Cabos still in the dark, while health officials planned to fumigate the area to prevent outbreaks mosquito-borne diseases, state officials said.
While Odile has dissipated over the US border, Polo was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm off Mexico’s southwestern coast, which was devastated by a deadly storm last year.