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Carlotta weakens, downgraded to tropical storm

Officials downgraded Carlotta from a hurricane to a tropical storm early Saturday as it weakened while moving across southern Mexico.

The National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center in Miami discontinued the hurricane warning that had been in effect from Salina Cruz to Punta Maldonado and the hurricane watch from west of Punta Maldonado to Acapulco.

Carlotta pushed northward toward the resort city of Acapulco on Saturday after making landfall near the Mexican beach town of Puerto Escondido, where it toppled trees and shook tourist hotels.

"We don't care about the rain, we're going to have fun at the club," said tourist Alejandra Flores, who took a bus with a friend yesterday from Guadalajara to Acapulco. People in Acapulco were calm and dining in restaurants late Friday.

Earlier Friday, Carlotta had toppled billboards and shattered some windows in Puerto Escondido, a laid-back port popular with surfers, where it reached land as a Category 1 hurricane.

"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.

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 expect it to become 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. Officials warn that rains could still present a danger.

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