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Hurricane hits Mexico, Central America; 66 killed

Salvadoran landslides cause most casualties

VERACRUZ, Mexico -- Hurricane Stan slammed into Mexico's Gulf coast yesterday, forcing authorities to close one of the nation's busiest ports and spawning storms across the region that left at least 66 people dead, most from landslides in El Salvador.

Stan, which whipped up sustained winds of 80 miles per hour before weakening to a tropical storm, came ashore along a sparsely populated stretch of coast south of Veracruz, a major port 185 miles east of Mexico City.

The storm's outer bands swiped the city, knocking down trees and flooding low-lying neighborhoods, authorities said. Officials said four people were injured, including a child.

All three of Mexico's Gulf oil loading ports were closed yesterday as a precaution, authorities said, but the shutdowns were not expected to affect oil prices. Meteorologists said Stan was driving storms across Central America and southern Mexico, provoking floods and landslides.

Some 49 people were killed in two days of flooding in El Salvador, Interior Secretary Rene Figueroa said last night. Nine people were killed in Nicaragua, including six people who were believed to be Ecuadoran migrants killed when their boat ran ashore.

Four deaths were reported in Honduras and three in Guatemala. In Costa Rica, a woman, 36, was killed in a landslide early yesterday. In Mexico's southern state of Chiapas, a river overflowed its banks and roared through Tapachula, carrying away ramshackle homes of wood and metal.

Governor Pablo Salazar said four people were missing in Chiapas and could have been swept away. He said 600 families had been evacuated from homes around Tapachula, near the Guatemalan border. At Chachalacas beach, 20 miles north of Veracruz, Celestino Criollo struggled amid rising winds and intermittent rains to clear equipment from his beach-side, thatched-roof seafood restaurant.

Criollo said the storm's rapid approach had caught many of the region's beach dwellers by surprise. ''We knew it would be strong and the tide high, but we didn't think it would come this quick," Criollo said. ''They advised us, but they could have done it sooner."

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