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Mexico Prepared for Hurricane Rick

November 10, 1997

PUERTO ESCONDIDO, Mexico (AP) _ Hurricane Rick walloped Mexico’s southern coast, an area still hurting from last month’s visit by Hurricane Pauline. But residents learned their lesson, and this time they were prepared.

Mindful of the extraordinary force of Pauline, villagers who greeted that storm with cynicism fled to sturdy houses on high ground for Rick’s arrival Sunday evening and stayed away from the banks of rivers.

And while Pauline killed at least 230 people in its charge up the coastline, not a single death was reported in Rick’s romp.

It also helped that Rick, a Category 1 hurricane, was not nearly as strong as Pauline, a Category 4 _ the second most severe level and the same as Hurricane Andrew, which hit south Florida in 1992.

`It wasn’t that bad this time because we were prepared,″ Floselo Palomec Antonio, 37, said Monday as he made the rounds in Puerto Escondido selling mescal, a harsh cactus-based liquor.

``We picked up experience with Pauline,″ Palomec said. ``This time people weren’t caught asleep on the sides of the rivers.″

Hurricane Rick reached Oaxaca’s coast Sunday evening, washing out roads, toppling trees, destroying crops and picking apart flimsy homes.

By Monday, it was downgraded to a tropical storm, then to a tropical depression as it moved inland over the neighboring southern state of Chiapas.

The Pacific hurricane season in Mexico has been particularly intense this year, which some blame on El Nino, a weather pattern that creates droughts in some areas while generating heavier-than-normal rain in others.

Chiapas officials nervously watched for signs of flooding along the coast and in upland river valleys, already saturated by three previous storms. In the coastal town of Arriaga, officials reported uninterrupted rains since late Sunday.

Officials evacuated some families living near rising rivers in the town of Tuxtla Gutierrez early Monday, Civil Protection spokesman Alfredo Chan said.

At its strongest, Rick’s 85-mph winds were much weaker than Pauline’s 115-mph winds, which battered the same stretch of the Oaxacan coast on Oct. 8 and inflicted widespread destruction before moving northwest to Acapulco and unleashing deadly flash floods.

But Rick was still a powerful storm, and many here believe the toll would have been much worse had people been caught off guard.

Few had been ready for Pauline. Hours before Pauline whipped into this coastline, many people had doubted it would arrive at all, citing numerous hurricane warnings over the years that had amounted to nothing.

But having seen Pauline’s destruction, nobody wrote off Rick.

``The other one took us by surprise,″ said Salomon Ramirez, a 44-year-old farmer in the nearby village of La Zulillo. ``But we were waiting for Rick’s arrival for a day.″

In some places, Rick hit harder than Pauline did. In the village of El Tomatal, 10 miles southeast of Puerto Escondido, the storm destroyed at least eight houses and tore the roofs off many more.

``There was more water than in Pauline,″ said Fernando Olivera Mendoza, a 22-year-old farmer. ``And just as much wind.″

But no one was injured in El Tomatal, and villagers attributed that to their readiness.

``About 8:30 last night it started blowing strong, and everyone ran to stronger houses,″ Olivera said. ``Thank God, that even though we may be homeless, we’re OK.″

On Monday, 52-year-old farmer Liborio Lopez Perez enlisted neighbors to help him cut down what remained of his wooden house with machetes. He planned to start building a new one on Tuesday.

``We rode out the storm in another house,″ he said, looking over at his wife and seven children. ``I may have lost my house, but at least we saved our lives.″

Many of the farmers in town worried most about their crops.

``What little Pauline left for us Rick took away,″ said Jose Manuel Santiago, 22. ``Pauline came to harvest the corn, and Rick came to harvest the peanuts.″

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