Hurricane Agatha leaves 11 dead and 20 missing in southern Mexico

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SAN ISIDRO DEL PALMAR, Mexico — Hurricane Agatha caused flooding and mudslides that left at least 11 dead and 20 missing, the governor of the state of Oaxaca announced on Tuesday.

Governor Alejando Murat said the rivers were overflowing and carrying people into homes, while other victims were buried under mud and rocks.

“There were basically two reasons” for these deaths, Murat told local media. “There have been rivers that have overflowed, and on the other hand, and most serious, are landslides.”

Murat said the deaths appeared to be concentrated in a number of small towns in the mountains, just inland from the coast. But he said three children also went missing near the resort town of Huatulco.

Agatha made history as the strongest hurricane on record in May during the eastern Pacific hurricane season.

It made landfall on Monday afternoon in a sparsely populated stretch of small beach towns and fishing villages in Oaxaca.

It was a powerful Category 2 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, but quickly lost power as it moved inland through the mountainous lands. Agatha’s remains were moving northeast into Veracruz state on Tuesday.

Murat said power had been restored to some communities near the coast, but some bridges had been washed away and mudslides had blocked a number of highways.

San Isidro del Palmar, just a few miles inland from the coast, was flooded by the Tonameca River which runs through the town.

Residents waded through neck-deep water to retrieve whatever items they could from their homes, walking gingerly with piles of clothes on their heads and religious figures in their arms.

Argeo Aquino, who has lived in the city all his life, said he can remember only two other occasions when he saw such flooding.

“The houses are totally flooded, so they’re taking everything out,” Aquino said Monday as he surveyed his neighbors. “There are shops, houses. More than anything else, we have to try to save all the good stuff, because everything else is going to be swept away.”

The brown waters of the Tonameca reached the windows of parked cars and minibuses used for local transport.

Nearby, heavy rain and high winds battered the seaside town of Zipolite, known for its clothing-optional beach and bohemian vibe. The wind howled for about six hours on Monday, helps Silvia Ranfagni, manager of the Casa Kalmar hotel in Zipolite.

“The wind noise was really loud, high-pitched,” Ranfagni said. “It started at 1 p.m. when the phone coverage died out and it didn’t calm down until 7:30 p.m..”

“A lot of trees had fallen, the roads washed out,” she said. “A lot of sheet metal and thatched roofs were blown away.”

Agatha formed on Sunday and quickly rose to power. It is the most powerful hurricane on record to make landfall in May in the eastern Pacific, said Jeff Masters, meteorologist at Yale Climate Connections and founder of Weather Underground.

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