Hurricane Manuel lashes northwest Mexico as storm misery spreads

Lizbeth Diaz and Anahi Rama
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By Lizbeth Diaz and Anahi Rama

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Hurricane Manuel lashed Mexico's northwest coast with heavy rains on Thursday, prompting evacuations amid the threat of fresh flash floods that storms have unleashed across Mexico, killing at least 81 people.

Storms have inundated vast swathes of Mexico since late last week, wrecking roads, destroying bridges, and triggering landslides that buried homes and their occupants. Roads became raging rapids in the Pacific resort of Acapulco, stranding some 40,000 tourists.

Emergency services said heavy rains were beating down on the northwestern state of Sinaloa, and that hundreds of people had been evacuated from coastal communities.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said an area of low pressure over the oil-producing southern Gulf of Mexico had a 70 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone over the next 48 hours and was expected to dump heavy rains on already flooded areas in southern and eastern Mexico.

The fresh misery comes after tropical storms Ingrid and Manuel converged on Mexico from the Gulf and the Pacific over the weekend, triggering the flash floods. Ingrid dissipated, but Manuel then strengthened and gained Hurricane strength.

More than a million people have been affected across the country, and 50,000 have been evacuated from their homes.

"It's raining really heavily. I saw lots of fallen trees on my way to work," said Cristian Nunez, 26, a hotel receptionist in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state. "Many employees didn't make it in ... we're basically alone."

The flooded tourist resort of Acapulco further south, which was hit by looting, was still reeling on Thursday.

Tens of thousands of people were still trapped in the city, awaiting evacuation as airlines and Mexico's armed forces worked to get them home.

Some 58 people are still missing after a mudslide in Atoyac, a municipality near Acapulco in Guerrero state, President Enrique Pena Nieto said on Wednesday night. Pena Nieto said 288 people had already been rescued from the site.

Hotels in the state of Baja California Sur, home to the popular beach resorts of Los Cabos, which is popular with U.S. tourists, reported rain and wind on Wednesday, but nothing like the conditions seen in Acapulco.

As the cost of the flooding continued to mount, the finance ministry said it had around 12 billion pesos ($925.60 million) available in emergency funding.

While all but two of Mexico's ports remained open to large ships, including its three main oil export hubs along the Gulf, nearly 40 ports along both the Gulf and Pacific coasts were closed on Thursday morning to smaller boats, the transport ministry said.

State oil monopoly Pemex said it had dispatched technicians to fix a ruptured 12-inch oil pipeline between the Gulf port of Madero inland to Cadereyta, which connects two refineries.

The pipeline was damaged when the Pablillo River burst its banks due to heavy rains.

(With reporting by Miguel Gutierrez, Gabriel Stargardter and David Alire Garcia; Editing by Simon Gardner and David Brunnstrom)