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Hunger, Looting, and Violence Follow Hurricane Odile's Path Across Baja California

Armed looters reportedly entered and sacked resorts and stores as Mexico once again struggles to respond to a major storm
Photo by Victor R. Caivano/AP

Entire communities in Baja California remained isolated five days after Hurricane Odile swept across the state of Baja California Sur in Mexico, badly damaging roads and ports, and leaving unknown numbers of people without electricity, food, or water.

Violence and looting broke out in the aftermath of the storm that reached Category 3 when it made landfall on the resort city of Cabo San Lucas at 9:45 PM on Sunday, bringing winds as strong as 125 mph.


As supplies of water and food dwindled, firefighters and humanitarian organizations struggled to provide relief while also worrying about feeding and hydrating themselves.

"The guys are having trouble keeping their own families fed and watered right now, so it's challenging," Robert Allen, a firefighter with the Cabo Fire Department, told NBC 7 San Diego.

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Los Cabos — the municipality encompassing Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo — has become particularly tense at night, as residents in outlying neighborhoods have formed defense militias, with members wearing masks and lighting bonfires to keep out potential looters. Resort owners reported that groups of heavily armed men had stormed and looted businesses, hotels, and homes across Los Cabos.

"People are running down streets with shopping carts, and you can see the desperation," Madelynn Pase, a Canadian resident of Los Cabos, told the Associated Press.

Authorities said that 11,000 people were evacuated from sensitive areas and at least 18,000 tourists have been airlifted on military and commercial planes since Tuesday. Mexico's army mobilized 2,000 soldiers in the southern Baja peninsula to set up shelters and stop the looting, the Interior Ministry said.

Imágenes del Aeropuerto de Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur. México. — MetMEX (@metmex)September 16, 2014


In Los Cabos, chain stores and supermarkets were looted by people in search of food and water, but domestic appliances and electronics were also taken, according to an eye-witness and VICE Media employee who was in the area on vacation when the storm hit.

Employees at a Mega supermarket used air rifles to keep looters away on Tuesday, which marked Mexico's Independence Day. Scuffles broke out in some stores as business owners and employees fought off people hunting for food and goods, and as looters fought among each other.

Seven people have been detained so far on suspicion of looting, federal officials said Thursday. Outside one Wal-Mart store, media reports said, someone had scrawled the words "Viva la Delincuencia" on a wall — a phrase meaning "Long Live Crime."

The images recalled similar incidents of looting and violence that followed Tropical Storm Manuel in the southern Pacific resort of Acapulco last September. Manuel, which also hit right around Independence Day, pounded Acapulco and other cities in the state of Guerrero, leaving more than 100 dead.

Mexico's official Independence Day celebration was a disaster. Read more here.

Maria Luisa, a 50-year-old resident of the state capital of La Paz who declined to give her last name, told VICE News that Odile was the strongest storm she had felt in her life and that residents everywhere were unprepared for its magnitude. One factor might have been the fact that Odile initially weakened before regaining power just before making landfall.


"It hit all of a sudden," Maria Luisa said on Friday. "Communication is tough, not everyone has electricity. We need order."

At least two people are confirmed dead as a result of the storm, according to the attorney general's office in Baja California. One victim was a Korean man who drowned while attempting to cross a swollen stream. The second was a German citizen who died of a heart attack aboard his boat, which was docked in La Paz city.

Two other men who were out on a sailboat are still missing. The Mexican navy identified them as Paul Witehouse and Simone Good, and said that the search for them is ongoing. All of the victims appear to be foreigners, a sign of the international nature of Cabo's tourism industry.

The coastal community of Santa Rosalia has been completely cut off since the storm hit and destroyed the major road connecting it to neighboring Mulejé and the rest of Baja California Sur, news accounts said. Other towns are also reportedly cut off, with minimal to no cell phone or land-line service available.

Power and water was returning to the major cities of Baja California Sur on Thursday and Friday, authorities said. Airports were also getting back online.

Odile downgraded to a tropical storm and was dissipating by Friday. Another hurricane, Polo, was menacing the southern Baja peninsula, but the most recent National Hurricane Center forecast suggested that Polo would steer into the Pacific Ocean over the weekend.