Hurricane Carlotta slammed into Mexico's resort-studded Pacific coast late Friday, toppling trees and lashing hotels while authorities evacuated people from low-lying areas.

The rapidly changing hurricane made landfall as a Category 1 storm near Puerto Escondido, a laid-back port popular with surfers, and is expected to push inland and northward in the direction of Acapulco.

"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 called and emailed guests to return to their rooms and stay there until the storm passed.

Oaxaca's civil protection service said a highway leading to the resorts of Huatulco and Pochutla was partially blocked by mudslides and that authorities had opened emergency shelters and evacuated dozens of families from low-lying areas.

Rain was also falling in Acapulco in neighbouring Guerrero state, but authorities lifted the hurricane warning for the famed Pacific resort late Friday night and lowered it to a tropical storm warning.

Storm weakens

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 now expect Carlotta to become a tropical storm on Saturday and a tropical depression by Sunday.

By late Friday night, Carlotta's winds had lessened to 150 km/h, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The centre of the storm was about 15 km northwest of Puerto Escondido and it was moving to the northwest at about 17 km/h

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 lashes the town, said Vos, who lived through Hurricane Pauline in 1997. Pauline made landfall at Puerto Escondido with winds of 175 km, killing at least 230 people along the Pacific coast.

The part of Oaxaca state and neighbouring Guerrero state that the storm will pass over is full of mountainous terrain that can experience flash floods under heavy rainfalls.

Cynthia Tovar, a spokeswoman for the Oaxaca state civil defence office, said authorities had begun to open nine emergency shelters and cancelled classes in coastal towns. Authorities were telling people in high-risk areas to head to the shelters, which can hold an estimated 4,500 people.

However, Vos, who spent about a week without electricity after Pauline in 1997, said people appeared to be slow to prepare for Carlotta.

"They are warning people, but I don't see anybody moving," Vos said.