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Zedillo upbraids Acapulco leaders for unchecked growth

President Ernesto Zedillo urged leaders of this hurricane-battered resort city Friday to reign in sprawling slums, taking local politicians from his own party to task for allowing unbridled growth.

More than 150 people died Oct. 9 when torrential flooding from Hurricane Pauline tore through the shacks that haphazardly cascade down the hills behind the glitzy vacation city. More than 10,000 homes were damaged.Zedillo urged leaders Friday to crack down on squatters - and on local political bosses who allow the settlements in order to win votes and payoffs.

"We should recognize that all the cities of Mexico, particularly a city such as Acapulco, cannot develop adequately without the discipline of strict urban planning," the president said in his fourth visit since Hurricane Pauline's devastation.

In 1994, Acapulco officials drafted a plan to control the rapidly growing city of 1.5 million, but it was never implemented. Many poor families in the city - governed for decades by Zedillo's Institutional Revolutionary Party - continue to live in high-risk areas on river banks and dry streambeds. On top of that, thousands of peasants from rural parts of Guerrero state flock to the city each year seeking tourism-related jobs.

"Hurricane Pauline made Acapulco realize its mistakes," said Jose Luis Sanchez, president of the Guerrero State College of Civil Engineering.

Zedillo, who arrived Thursday, spent Friday inspecting the damage to homes and businesses, and reviewing the progress of clean-up efforts. Some 20,000 federal workers have been dispatched to the southern Baja city to revive the country's most famous and lucrative tourist spot.

Federal, state and local officials are now beginning the difficult task of finding safe land to immediately relocate 1,300 families left homeless by the hurricane. Zedillo asked planners to find those families a safe place that is accessible to public transportation, but to do it without harming the city's protected areas and natural parks.

Federal authorities have spent more than $75 million to clean up Pauline's mess, including rebuilding water pipes and roads, reinstalling telephone service and electricity, and cleaning up the debris-strewn beaches.

Hotels in the beach-side tourist zone are fully operating again. Ninety percent of the city's water system has been fixed. And more than half the schools opened this week, although only 36 percent of the students returned to classes.