British Columbian travellers in Mazatlán say they are hunkering down in rentals and resorts, as a wave of violence flares in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.
Violence broke out in the state Thursday, after police arrested alleged drug cartel leader Ovidio Guzman, a son of jailed Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Much of the violence appears focused in the city of Culiacan, where airline Aeromexico said one of its passenger planes was struck by a bullet during the fighting.
However three airports, including the the one in Mazatlán have been closed, and Canada has issued a travel advisory for the entire state.
“The one thing we know tonight is we’re safe, we’re with friends. I’ve reached out to my family and let them know we’re OK,” Nanaimo, B.C., resident Mark Lockhart, who was staying near the city with his wife and friends, told Global News Thursday evening.
Lockhart and his companions didn’t realize what was happening until they tried to take a trip to the beach Thursday morning, only to find the roadways in chaos.
“We saw these two trucks burning … and we got turned around, so we went up over the overpass and there was another truck burning, blocking off all access to the Mazatlán airport,” he said.
They returned to where they were staying, where they learned from a local connection what was going on and decided to stay put.
“(We have friends) holed up in an apartment downtown. As soon as the action started this morning, they were told to immediately get off the streets by the government, get off the streets, get locked away, and stay safe,” he said.
“We’re going to take our friends advice … and stay home tonight, we’ve got a nice little back yard here, we can stay cool and we’re watching the hockey game.’
Chilliwack residents Donna Arellano and their friends were all set to head out for a tour of the city from their resort Thursday morning, when the bus driver told them the excursion was cancelled due to the fighting.
“It’s kind of scary to be honest, but what can we do? We’re here now, and it’s not safe for us to get out of the resort, that’s for sure,” she said.
Arellano said the group was trying to make the most of the situation, swimming and going to the beach at the resort, where she said they feel safe.
However the group was supposed to fly out Friday afternoon, and are uncertain about what happens next.
She said her airline hasn’t let them know if the flight will go ahead yet, adding she was nervous about the idea if the violence has yet to die down.
“We have to travel from our resort to the airport for like half and hour and that’s on the highway,” she said. “It’s kind of scary because they shot one of the airplanes from Aeromexico this morning, from the other airport, they shot it. So that’s kind of scary for us.”
Lockhart, too, said his travel plans were now up in the air.
His party was meant to fly out Saturday, but he said he wasn’t sure if the airports would be back up and running by then.
“It’s starting to look like that’s not going to happen. There’s rumours the airports are not going to be open until Monday now,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
The federal government’s updated travel notice for the country notes “widespread violence and security operations” in Sinaloa state, particularly in Culiacan, Mazatlán, Los Mochis and Guasave.
The advisory says the Culiacan and Mazatlán airports are closed and all flights have been suspended at the Los Mochis airport until further notice. Burning cars, gunfire and threats to essential infrastructure have been reported in the affected areas, officials added.
Canadians in Sinaloa should stay put if possible, it said, and “avoid areas where demonstrations and large gatherings are taking place,” and to not cross road blockades that have been set up by either law enforcement or gang members.
— with files from Sean Boynton and Aaron McArthur