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Airlift launched for tourists in flooded Acapulco

A tourist from Mexico City sleeps in a shelter in Acapulco, Guerrero state, Mexico, on September 17, 2013
A tourist from Mexico City sleeps in a shelter in Acapulco, Guerrero state, Mexico, on September 17, 2013 as heavy rains hit the country.

Mexican officials launched an airlift to evacuate tens of thousands of tourists stranded in the resort of Acapulco on Tuesday following a pair of deadly major storms.

Aeromexico and Interjet began the first of several flights to bring people to Mexico City, with officials estimating that 40,000 Mexican and foreign beachgoers are marooned in hotels.

The terminal remained closed, with flood waters blocking road access to the airport, but authorities were busing people directly to the runway from a concert hall that was turned into a shelter.

The Pacific coast city's airport and two main highways have been closed since the tropical storms, Ingrid and Manuel, began to pound the country's east and west coasts over the weekend.

The weather systems, which have now dissipated, triggered heavy rains, floods and landslides that have left at least 38 people dead in several states, according to federal officials. State and local officials have reported 10 more deaths.

The southwestern state of Guerrero endured four days of non-stop rain that has flooded more than half of Acapulco, a city of 680,000 people, according to municipal officials.

Authorities have used boats, amphibious vehicles and helicopters to rescue people who took refuge on upper floors or roofs of their homes after waters rose as high as 10 feet (three meters) in some neighborhoods.

Tourists from Mexico City sleep in a shelter in Acapulco, Guerrero state, Mexico, on September 17, 2013
Tourists from Mexico City sleep in a shelter in Acapulco, Guerrero state, Mexico, on September 17, 2013.

The rising waters even brought out crocodiles that complicated the rescue missions.

The first military flight carrying aid landed late Monday.

"All land routes are closed and for the moment it is difficult to open the commercial airport of Acapulco," national civil protection coordinator Luis Felipe Puente told MVS radio.

The first two flights from Aeromexico and Interjet left after midday.

Aeromexico announced that it would send five flights to evacuate 900 people on Tuesday and 1,000 more on Wednesday. An Interjet spokesman was not available for comment.

Two men wait for help in a flooded street in Acapulco, Guerrero state, Mexico on September 16, 2013
Two men wait for help in a flooded street in Acapulco, Guerrero state, Mexico, after heavy rains hit the area on September 16, 2013.

Interjet's president, Miguel Aleman Magnani, said on Twitter that the air carrier was first attending passengers with previous reservations while others would be able to buy tickets for $77. Aeromexico was offering a special fair of $115.

Authorities hope to open one lane of a federal road linking Mexico City to Acapulco later Tuesday.

Manuel struck the Pacific coast on Sunday while Ingrid weakened from hurricane to tropical storm strength as it made landfall on the northeastern coast on Monday.

It was the first time since 1958 that two storms hit the country almost at the same time. Two-thirds of the country were affected this time, officials said.

Although the storms have waned, authorities have warned that an emergency remains in place in Guerrero and the eastern state of Veracruz.

Around 50 towns were affected in Guerrero, with around 20,000 evacuated and some 238,000 people seeing various levels of damage to their homes, officials said.

At least 29 people died in Guerrero and Governor Angel Aguirre estimates that the damage cost his impoverished state $380 million.

In Veracruz, the storms damaged 18 bridges, triggered landslides that fell on dozens of roads and affected some 20,000 homes, state officials said. Some 23,000 were evacuated.

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