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Pauline leaves 118 dead, rivers of debris in Acapulco

Thousands of soldiers rushed to two western Mexican states Friday to help communities devastated by Hurricane Pauline, whose flooding and mudslides killed 118 people and injured scores more.

The four-day rampage by Pauline, since downgraded to a tropical storm, turned streets in the luxurious resort of Acapulco 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. Wind-battered palm trees bowed over along the avenues lined by hotels.

Defense Secretary Enrique Cervantes Aguirre said more than 6,500 army troops had entered communities in Oaxaca and Guerrero states to aid victims. Hundreds of military doctors and nurses were in Acapulco, which has been declared a disaster area.

Government ministers said crews would soon begin clearing roads and repairing breaks in highways connecting mountainous Oaxaca state with the rest of the country.

Authorities and aid groups appealed for donations of bottled drinking water, medicine, food, blankets and other supplies for the thousands of Mexicans up and down the coast who have been left homeless.

There were no reports of tourists killed or missing.

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

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

At 5 a.m. EDT, tropical storm warnings for Mexico were dropped as Pauline's dissipating center was located about 120 miles east of the coastal resort of Manzanillo, the center said.

Winds had dropped to 35 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.

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.

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.