Salvation Army responds to Otis

by Robert Mitchell

The USA East’s Emergency Disaster Services were quick to respond to the hurricane that devastated Acapulco in October.

Hurricane Otis slammed Acapulco in late October of 2023, and among those helping with the response was Bob Myers, the USA Eastern Territory’s Emergency Disaster Services director.

“The local leadership is great and has excellent contacts,” Myers wrote from the scene. “We are now getting donation parcels from the Marina (Navy) and looking to build out packages/bags to distribute with our hot meals starting on Monday.… we got a massive donation of supplies from the military. The Canteen is full (about 200 parcels) and a military truck is also full (no idea how much but probably triple what’s in the canteen). And the van we are in has supplies for the children’s center.”

According to a release from The Salvation Army’s World Services Office (SAWSO), wind speeds for Otis topped out at 165 mph and the storm made landfall just west of Acapulco. Initially forecast to be a weak tropical storm at its peak, Otis underwent an intense transformation just before landfall, becoming a Category 5 hurricane.

The storm’s heavy rains caused landslides and flooding. The force of the winds caused devastation in Acapulco and surrounding areas. Communication, transportation, and energy infrastructure were heavily damaged, and in the aftermath, Acapulco and surrounding areas were left with no drinking water, no power, and limited food supplies.

The government mobilized thousands of military staff to aid survivors with recovery efforts and to maintain law and order. The total damage from Otis is estimated to be in the billions of dollars. Authorities put the toll of dead and missing at less than 100, but the numbers are disputed.

As for The Salvation Army, its children’s boarding school in Acapulco was badly damaged by the storm, but staff and residents there did not sustain any serious injuries.

“Our response efforts were first mobilized to assist our children’s home,” the SAWSO release said. “Because we have a long-term investment in the places where we serve we were among the first to respond, and we will remain a presence in rebuilding lives and homes.”

Initial efforts included cleanup and removal of debris from the children’s school. The Salvation Army then began distributing water and other basics from a mobile canteen immediately post-landfall, as well as cleaning supplies.

The team was invited to add expertise to the disaster response coordination task force at the Mexican Naval Base in Acapulco. During this meeting, The Salvation Army was tasked with providing food and water beyond the children’s boarding school to the state emergency services personnel and other first responders on the front lines and at the command center.

“We are providing hope and emotional and spiritual care to those impacted, which is one of our core services,” the SAWSO release continued. “In the short-term we will continue to provide life-sustaining humanitarian aid. Our other response teams in Mexico are joining the response along with response teams from the USA and from our International Emergency Services leadership. Our teams are also helping in the post-hurricane clean-up.”