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Mexican News Agency Reports That 15 People Have Died in the Wake of Hurricane Pauline’s High

October 9, 1997

Mexican News Agency Reports That 15 People Have Died in the Wake of Hurricane Pauline’s High Winds and Torrential RainsBy MARK STEVENSON

ACAPULCO, Mexico (AP) _ Hurricane Pauline pounded Mexico’s southwestern Pacific coast today with 100 mph winds and torrential rains, creating fast-churning rivers of mud, water and debris that raced down the main streets of Acapulco. Dozens of people were reported killed or missing.

Many of them were caught in muddy torrents that swept hundreds of cars, huge tree trunks and tons of mud down the mountains behind Acapulco toward the sea. The once-glittering resort, a city of 2.9 million, was turned into a disaster zone, with hundreds of homes wrecked by floods.

Tourists huddled in darkened hotels and hundreds of locals sought refuge in emergency shelters. Ropes were strung across downtown intersections to help people across torrents of roaring water. The bodies of at least five people were seen floating away in the powerful currents.

Towering waves carved up most of the city’s once-pristine beaches. Boulders the size of cars were swept down the hills and cars were flipped over like scattered toys, some with their lights still on, their doors underwatrer. A coastal highway skirting the famed beaches became a raging river, where one man’s body lay face-up in mud.

Elilasio Garcia, 22, said he and other residents of an apartment building fled during the night as Pauline roared past. ``We left when we felt the building tremble beause of the rocks the river was throwing at the foudnation,″ he said.

A hurricane warning was extended this morning hundreds of miles up the coast, from Acapulco to Puerto Vallarta, as satellite images showed Pauline moving roughly parallel to the shore, the U.S. Hurricane Center in Miami reported.

The storm began raking Acapulco before dawn today as it moved northward up the coast toward the beach resorts of Zihuatanejo, Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta. At 2 p.m. EDT, Pauline was near Zihuatanejo, Mexico, and moving west-northwest up the coast at 15 mph, the hurricane center said.

President Ernesto Zedillo, on a state visit to Germany, ordered military and civil defense workers into the hard-hit states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, the official Notimex news agency reported. Telephone communication to much of the coast was cut after Pauline began pummeling the shore late Wednesday.

Reports gave widely varying numbers of dead and missing.

Notimex said at least 15 people were killed. 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 the hills.

Red Cross spokesman Marco Antonio Santiago, reached by telephone in Acapulco, said the relief agency counted five dead but at least 50 people were reported missing. ``We’ve got rain coming down, mudslides blocking roads. Houses have fallen, walls are down,″ he said.

Authorities had no immediate injury reports from Acapulco and the surrounding state of Guerrero, but Red Cross and civil defense officials in neighboring Oaxaca said at least 46 people were injured there.

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.

Overnight, Pauline pummeled tourist hotels and fishing villages near Huatulco, churning up 30-foot seas with 115 mph winds while leaving a trail of roofless and ruined residences. The violent winds and rains turned streets into rivers, ripped large trees from the ground and sent makeshift homes of plywood flying.

Waves up to 30 feet tall tore away the beachfront of the Huatulco Sheraton and other bays, leaving tree limbs scattered everywhere.

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

``It was very dramatic, something we had never seen here before,″ said hotel security guard Nicanor Reyes, who was forced to stay overnight at the hotel because of flooded roads.

``I don’t know what the situation is in my house,″ he said, worrying about his wife and five children.

Pauline nearly flattened the poor community of Las Tres Cruces, next to the Huatulco airport.

``Everything is gone,″ said 32-year old Evaristo Gerardo Mayo, surveying the humble neighborhood where pots and pans lay scattered amid broken glass and waterlogged mattresses.

U.S. Hurricane Center specialist Lixion Avila said early today that Pauline’s path remained highly unpredictable.

Pauline is one of several strong eastern Pacific cyclones this year, including Nora, which walloped the American southwest as a tropical storm _ a rarity for the desert.

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

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