Local News

At Least 118 as Hurricane Pauline Devastates...

Posted October 9, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Hurricane Pauline struck Mexico's most famous tourist resort with devastating fury Thursday, unleashing deadly torrents that swept people, cars and boulders toward ravaged Pacific beaches before being downgraded to a tropical storm.

At least 118 people were killed in the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero. Twice that number were reported injured. Dozens were missing. Floods and mud slides were rampant, and damage was extensive.

All ports were closed from Tapachula, near the Guatemalan border, to Acapulco. Air traffic was suspended. Power was out through most of the coast, and telephone service was spotty.

The U.S. Hurricane Center in Miami, Fla., said at 8 p.m. EDT that Pauline was centered about 30 miles north of Playa Azul in Guerrero state, and moving northwest at 13 mph. Winds had dropped to 70 mph - below hurricane level of 74 mph.

But heavy flood warnings remained in effect.

Guerrero state secretary Humberto Salgado said 94 people died Thursday in Acapulco - most of them drowned by flash floods.

Authorities appealed for help for Acapulco, which the federal government declared a disaster area. The beach resort had run out of gasoline, drinking water, food, clothing, medicines and many more essentials.

``This is a very sad day,'' said Gov. Angel Aguirre of Guerrero state, home to Acapulco, where Pauline sent torrents of rainwater raging through streets. Aguirre said at least five other people were killed elsewhere in the state, adding, ``We don't recall a hurricane ever having caused such damage.''

In neighboring Oaxaca state, where Pauline first struck with 115-mph winds a day earlier, state government spokesman Leandro Hernandez confirmed 19 deaths, 15 people missing and thousands of homeless.

``The figure could still rise,'' said Hernandez, speaking with The Associated Press by telephone from the state, where powerful Pauline ripped makeshift homes away and badly damaged such resorts as Puerto Angel.

Fueled by the warm El Nino ocean currents, Pauline powered towering waves - 30 feet tall on exposed coasts - that pounded Acapulco's pristine beaches to a maelstrom of trash and twisted lounge chairs.

Heavy rains turned streets into roaring rivers of debris. Water swept boulders the size of cars down the hills and flipped vehicles like toys, catching some with lights still on, their doors underwater. A coastal highway skirting the famed beaches teemed with raging water, and one man's body stuck from the mud, arms outstretched and mouth agape.

``If Pauline survives, it could become a potential threat to the Gulf of California and adjacent areas within the next day or two,'' hurricane center forecaster Max Mayfield said.

President Ernesto Zedillo, on a state visit to Germany, ordered army troops into stricken areas along a long stretch of coast. Troops in Humvees poured into Acapulco by the hundreds to secure areas around homes wrecked by raging floods.

TV footage showed bodies mired in the mud. Jaime Herandez, 40, who lives in the hills near Acapulco, said police took away at least seven bodies after mud and water came rushing down before dawn.

``We've got rain coming down, mudslides blocking roads. Houses have fallen, walls are down,'' Red Cross spokesman Marco Antonio Santiago said.

There were no reports of casualties among American or other tourists. Many foreigners huddled in hotels while hundreds of Mexicans up and down the coast remained in emergency shelters.

``You feel bad for the people - there's so much poverty and it's the off-season and now this,'' said Joyce Walton, a 33-year-old tourist from Chicago.

Acapulco's deadliest drama unfolded in working neighborhoods on the hills above the five-star ocean-front hotels as a 40-foot-wide torrent tumbled toward the sea.

``We felt our apartment building tremble because of the rocks the river was throwing against the foundations,'' said Elilasio Garcia, 22, who escaped one 10-story concrete building when a nearly dry gulch sprang to life.

Hundreds of modest homes of cement and wood tottered and collapsed into floodwaters and knee-deep torrents raced down many streets closer to Acapulco's beach, rushing to the sea.

Hurricane Pauline barreled ashore near Huatulco in Oaxaca state on Wednesday, blowing down plywood homes.

In a public housing project in Huatulco, children drew water from a dirty canal using buckets after the canal overflowed its banks and sent 3 feet of mud into homes there.

``The water took away everything,'' said Rosaura Aguilar Ramirez, 38. ``It took our clothes. It took our dishes. Everything.''

She threw a muddy rag into the yard. ``My daughter's dress,'' she said.

In Puerto Angel, where Pauline first rumbled ashore on Wednesday, many houses that weren't made of concrete were washed away, said Federico Velazquez, a federal highway police official in radio contact with that city. Waves tore away the beach of the Huatulco Sheraton.

Sheila Butler, 78, of McAllen, Texas, said she had never seen a hurricane so ruinous. ``We come from South Texas, so we've seen hurricanes, but this was a real strong one,'' she said.

Forecasters said El Nino, a phenomenon in which unusually warm waters disrupt weather patterns, apparently was to blame for the high number of powerful Pacific hurricanes this year.

By MARK STEVENSON,Associated Press Writer Copyright ©1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.