Local News

At Least 118 Killed as Hurricane Pauline...

Posted October 10, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Tropical Storm Pauline dumped torrents of rain on western Mexico today and was breaking up over the inland mountains after spawning deadly flooding and mudslides that killed at least 118 people. 

Twice as many people were reported injured and dozens were missing after the storm's four-day rampage through the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero, home to Acapulco. There were no reports of deaths or injuries among tourists. 

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. Wind-battered palm trees bowed over along the avenues lined by hotels. 

A coastal highway skirting the famed beaches teemed with raging water, and one man's body was planted in the mud, arms outstretched and mouth agape. 

``This is a very sad day,'' Guerrero Gov. Angel Aguirre said. ``We don't recall a hurricane ever having caused such damage.'' 

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. 

Pauline was downgraded from hurricane status on Thursday and was ``weakening rapidly'' today, the U.S. Hurricane Center in Miami said. It warned though that heavy rains and flooding were still likely. 

At 2 a.m. EDT the center of Pauline was located about 100 miles east of the coast resort of Manzanillo, the center said. Winds had dropped to 40 mph - well below the hurricane level of 74 mph. 

Ports as far north as Mazatlan were closed, though seas had calmed significantly along Mexico's southern Pacific coast. Air traffic was suspended. Power was out along much of the coast, and telephone service was spotty. 

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

Rescuers dug bodies out of mud heaps and collapsed buildings and brought them to the local morgue, where 65 bodies were laid out for identification. Some of the contorted cadavers were dressed in night clothes. 

``My god this is hard,'' said Julio Rodriguez, looking for his father-in-law, missing since the morning. ``They are unrecognizable.'' 

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,'' Hernandez told The Associated Press by telephone from the state, where Pauline ripped makeshift homes away and badly damaged such resorts as Puerto Angel. 

Fueled by the warm El Nino ocean currents, Pauline generated towering waves - 30 feet tall on exposed coasts - that pounded Acapulco's pristine beaches and littered them with trash and twisted lounge chairs. 

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 Hernandez, 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. 

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 oceanfront 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.'' 

By MARK STEVENSON,Associated Press Writer 

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