MSF responds after Category 5 Hurricane Otis hits Acapulco

“That hurricane came with undisguised and sick intentions.”

2.Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) responds to the emergency following Hurricane Otis in Acapulco, Mexico

Mexico 2023 © MSF

“That hurricane came with undisguised and sick intentions,” said Juan Jassiel Zárate with a mix of humor and horror. “I still haven’t been able to recover several of my clothes, or the only pair of shoes I had, and all the medicine I had for diabetes never reappeared. I think Otis took all that with him.”

He was still partly in shock due to Hurricane Otis, the force of nature that hit Acapulco on the Pacific coast of Mexico that morning, leaving a trail of destruction from which people are just beginning to recover.  

Zárate is one of almost 600 people who have received care through a mobile clinic set up by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to support people impacted by the disaster. The mobile clinic is in Potrerillo, one of the neighborhoods most affected by the hurricane.

People with backpacks in hurricane-damaged Acapulco, Mexico.
“I haven’t been able to sleep well since we had to live through this nightmare,” said Maritza Romero, who lost her house in the storm. Mexico 2023 © MSF

A neighborhood still recovering

Water and electricity services in Potrerillo have been damaged and are yet to be restored, and health services are still not fully functional. Ninety percent of tourism infrastructure, which Acapulco heavily relies on economically, has been damaged. 

Zárate, who relies on regular medication to help manage his diabetes, says that when he went to the local hospital, they told him they were only responding to emergency cases, and did not have the medicines he needs.

“In my neighborhood we still don’t have electricity or water. People are boiling water with firewood and adding chlorine to be able to drink it, but my kids don’t like it because they say it tastes like charcoal. I had to send them to another nearby municipality with my mother-in-law because it’s very difficult to live here, and I don’t want them to get sick.”

Juan Jassiel Zárate, MSF patient

“Before Otis, I attended the hospital once a month, and they would give me the medications. But after this, who knows when the situation will [go back to] normal.”

“We have met many people with chronic diseases who do not have access to care or medications, as well as young people with gastrointestinal, respiratory illnesses, and skin infections, as well as women in the early stages of pregnancy who are beginning to experience some complications,” said Miriam Hernández, the medical coordinator of MSF’s mobile clinic.

Damage caused by Hurricane Otis in Acapulco, Mexico
Damage caused by Hurricane Otis in Acapulco. Mexico 2023 © MSF

Responding to a traumatized community

Mental health is also a major concern for the MSF team. “I haven’t been able to sleep well since we had to live through this nightmare,” said 63-year-old Maritza Romero, whose house was severely damaged in the hurricane. “The images of the water tanks breaking into a thousand pieces due to the force of the winds, and the banging on the doors as if someone was trying to break them, constantly come back to me.” 

“During our activities, we have been able to identify symptoms of acute stress related to the strong impact of the hurricane, which caused many human and material losses for the city’s residents,” said Berzaida López, a psychologist with MSF’s team in Acapulco. “However, we have also identified emotional issues in the community that predate the emergency, and have intensified and due to the magnitude of the emergency they have had to face.”

“All the wind came in through the kitchen windows, drenching all our furniture and clothes. My mom got all wet and that’s why she has a sore throat now. I didn’t get anything at first, but then I had a lot of stomach pain and fever. My mom says it´s because of the water we’ve been drinking these days. My teacher told me that a tree fell on the school and we didn’t have to go to class. My mom keeps giving me homework, but I don’t know when we’re going back to school.”

Liam García, MSF patient

In the coming days, MSF’s team will continue to provide assistance in Potrerillo and strengthen health promotion activities in the surrounding areas to connect with people who rely on the clinic’s services. To do so, they have to overcome several challenges. The neighborhood is located in a steep, hilly part of Acapulco, which can be difficult to reach. Even in the first hours of MSF’s outreach, our team heard stories from patients who required attention but could not access health care because of physical difficulties or responsibilities for other family members. At the same time, MSF is responding to medical and humanitarian needs in other areas of Acapulco where our presence is required.  

“We are in constant contact with the health authorities and the local organizations to decide where and how we need to respond," said Hernández. "We have found great strength in a community that has put all its resources at our disposal to support recovery after the disaster. These people and organizations will be our main allies to ensure that our activities have the expected impact of improving the health of the most affected people.”