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Mexico looks to rebuild from twin storms

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Mexico looked Saturday to the Herculean task of rebuilding after rare storms struck from east and west at the same time, killing 101 people and destroying homes, schools and roads.

Officials also began tallying the economic damage in a country where the growth forecast was already lowered drastically in August.

A police helicopter missing since Thursday was found to have crashed, with no survivors, a government source said without giving the death toll. Press reports said the aircraft was carrying just its crew of three.

President Enrique Pena Nieto cancelled plans to travel to New York for the UN General Assembly next week and will instead stay in the disaster area to help coordinate relief efforts over the weekend.

An estimated 200,000 people were left homeless and nearly 60,000 were evacuated because of the flooding and landslides in the wake of the storms, Manuel on the west coast and Ingrid from the east.

Road repairs alone will cost about $3 billion, the transport ministry said.

The tropical storms have hammered the country since September 14, damaging tens of thousands of homes, flooding cities and washing out roads.

Mexico had not been hit simultaneously by two powerful storms like this since 1958, the National Weather Service said.

At least 68 people were missing following a mudslide that swallowed half of the village of La Pintada in Guerrero state, Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said.

Guerrero was the hardest hit, with at least 65 deaths and its Pacific resort of Acapulco left isolated after the two roads to Mexico City were covered by landslides on September 15. Tourists were stranded for five days.

Thousands finally packed into cars and buses on Friday after authorities reopened road links to the capital.

Around 62,000 tourists have managed to leave the city, about half by road and half in special airlift planes.

The airport -- where the terminal flooded last Saturday -- should be practically back to normal on Sunday, Communications and Transport Minister Gerardo Ruiz Esparza said.

The police rescue helicopter that went missing and was found Saturday had been delivering relief material and trying to help evacuate people from La Pintada.

Osorio Chong told radio station Formula that the damage from the storms was "beyond calculation."

In Guerrero, one of Mexico's poorest states, it will be particularly hard to tally the toll because the terrain is mountainous with many small villages that are hard to reach, he said.

Early official estimates are that the storms damaged 1.5 million homes in 22 of Mexico's 32 states, along with 72 roads or highways.

In Guerrero alone, the preliminary damage estimate is $380 million, acording to state Governor Angel Aguirre.

Half the picturesque resort city of Acapulco was flooded, while rising waters brought out crocodiles. Looters ransacked stores.

But Acapaulco's airport, which had been swamped, "is almost back to normal service," Ruiz Esparza said at midday Saturday.

People continued to work with shovels and pickaxes in La Pintada, the coffee-growing village west of Acapulco that was also swamped by a massive mudslide.

Officially, two people were killed -- their bodies were pulled out of the debris -- and 68 are missing. Villagers fear that scores have perished.

"I think a lot of people have been killed. A lot of my relatives died. They're buried and we can't do anything," said farmer Diego Zeron.

The mud collapsed on the village of 400 people during independence day celebrations on Monday, swallowing homes, a school and church before crashing into the river.

Soldiers and civil protection workers, many wearing surgical masks, removed pieces of broken homes and chopped up fallen trees with machetes.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130921/mexico-looks-rebuild-twin-storms-0