Frustration grows in search for Acapulco sailors lost in hurricane

Aftermath of Hurricane Otis, in Acapulco

By Troy Merida

ACAPULCO, Mexico (Reuters) - Families of Mexican sailors missing since Hurricane Otis last month devastated the seaside resort of Acapulco are pleading for more help in the search for loved ones, frustrated by a lack of progress and government assistance.

Hurricane Otis, which roared through Acapulco in the early hours of Oct. 25, was the most powerful storm on record to strike Mexico's Pacific coast, killing at least 48 people and wrecking thousands of homes in the city of nearly 900,000.

Officials say another 28 people are unaccounted for but the families of seamen say the number is probably much higher. In Acapulco, many sailors jumped on their moored boats to sail them to what they believed were safer parts of the bay as storms move in.

But they were blindsided by the ferocity of Otis, which unexpectedly grew into a Category 5 storm before landfall, ripping through the bay and destroying hundreds of boats.

"The authorities have greatly minimized the situation of our missing and our dead," said Yesenia Soriano, whose missing husband was a retired Mexican Navy sailor.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has vigorously denied unconfirmed media reports suggesting that over 300 people may have died due to Otis, and says his government is investing "like never before" to get Acapulco back on its feet.

Susana Ramos Villa, 32, said people who cannot afford to go out to sea to search for relatives need government assistance.

"That's all we want, that they give us that help, the means, and we'll do it," said Villa, who is looking for her husband.

Alejandro Alexander González, an Acapulco Port official, said between 30-40 people are looking for missing sailors.

"Before we begin to remove the larger vessels, the yachts, we're doing an intense search to locate bodies," he said.

Mexican business groups put the economic damage to the city at an estimated $16 billion, while the Mexican Association of Insurance Companies forecast its members would end up paying about 11.4 billion pesos ($662 million) in claims.

($1 = 17.2268 Mexican pesos)

(Reporting by Troy Merida; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Aurora Ellis)