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Tropical Storm Carlotta Near Hurricane Strength

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TROPICAL STORM CARLOTTA
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ACAPULCO, Mexico — Hurricane Carlotta slammed into Mexico's resort-studded Pacific coast late Friday, toppling trees and lashing hotels while authorities evacuated people from low-lying areas.

The rapidly changing hurricane made landfall as a Category 1 storm near Puerto Escondido, a laid-back port popular with surfers, and is expected to push inland and northward in the direction of Acapulco.

"The wind is incredible and the trees are swaying so much. A window just shattered," said Ernesto Lopez, a 25-year-old engineer who was visiting Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca state for a graduation.

Coral Ocampo, receptionist at the Hotel Careyes, said the wind was tearing down the skinnier palm trees and that she had asked guests to return to their rooms and stay there until the storm had passed.

Oaxaca's civil protection service said some roads near the resorts of Huatulco and Pochutla were affected by mudslides, and that authorities had opened emergency shelters and evacuated dozens of families from low-lying areas.

Rain was also falling in Acapulco in neighboring Guerrero state, but authorities lifted the hurricane warning for the famed Pacific resort late Friday night and lowered it to a tropical storm warning.

"We don't care about the rain, we're going to have fun at the club," said Alejandra Flores, who took a bus with a friend yesterday from Guadalajara to Acapulco.

Carlotta had strengthened into a powerful Category 2 hurricane earlier Friday and forecasters had expected it to move northward, parallel to the coastline, possibly reaching Acapulco as a hurricane. But instead it moved inland and weakened. Forecasters now expect Carlotta to become a tropical storm on Saturday and a tropical depression on Sunday.

By late Friday night, Carlotta's winds had lessened to 90 mph (150 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. The center of the storm was about 10 miles (15 kms) northwest of Puerto Escondido and was moving to the northwest at about 10 mph (17 kph).

Ines Vos, a German who has lived on Mexico's coast for 22 years and now runs the Beach Hotel Ines in Puerto Escondido, said she had readied the hotel's generator and stocked up on gasoline and bottled water in preparation for the storm.

"In the morning, a lot of people left, they didn't want to stay because nobody knows how the roads will be" after Carlotta, said Vos, who lived through Hurricane Pauline in 1997. Pauline made landfall at Puerto Escondido with winds of 109 mph, killing at least 230 people along the Pacific coast.

The part of Oaxaca state and neighboring Guerrero state that the storm will pass over is full of mountainous terrain that can experience flash floods under heavy rainfalls.

Cynthia Tovar, a spokeswoman for the Oaxaca state civil defense office, said authorities had begun cancelled classes in coastal towns. Authorities were telling people in high-risk areas to head to the shelters, which can hold an estimated 4,500 people.

However, Vos, who spent about a week without electricity after Pauline in 1997, said people appeared to be slow to prepare for Carlotta.

"They are warning people, but I don't see anybody moving," Vos said.

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Associated Press writer Sayra Cruz contributed to this report from Oaxaca City, Mexico

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