Wednesday August 8, 2012
Hurricane Ernesto lands on Mexican coast
CHETUMAL, Mexico: Hurricane Ernesto crashed into Mexico's Yucatan peninsula on Tuesday, flooding streets of the city of Chetumal, unleashing powerful gusts of wind and sending thousands of residents and tourists into shelters.
Ernesto had top sustained winds of 85 miles per hour (140 km per hour) as it landed on the Mexican coast near the town of Mahahual, about 40 miles (65 km) east northeast of Chetumal, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said in its 11:15 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT) advisory.
Civil Protection officials in the state of Quintana Roo said about 2,300 people were evacuated from Chetumal up the coast to Tulum.
This southern part of the state is known for its scuba diving and eco-tourism attractions.
Rain was also pouring down further north on the resort of Cancun, although people stayed in their homes and hotels there.
Ernesto is a Category 1 hurricane, the lowest on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.
In Chetumal, the state capital of Quintana Roo, authorities set up 35 shelters, which were filled with a mix of tourists and residents.
Patricia Footit, a Canadian tourist who was evacuated from her Mahaual beach-front hotel Tuesday afternoon, said she was enjoying the experience.
"I'm absolutely fine. This is an adventure," said Footit, sitting on a mat on the floor reading a book to pass the time.
"I was just on the beach chilling out when the loudspeaker said we had to evacuate."
Chetumal's working class neighborhood of Lazaro Cardenas was flooded with water, but many residents said they preferred to stay in their cinder block and wood homes.
"This is normal. It is not the first time that a hurricane has come through here," said Carmen Salis, 19, standing outside her house.
Ernesto is forecast to push across Yucatan and reemerge Wednesday in the southern Gulf of Mexico, where state oil company Pemex has port facilities and offshore platforms.
Pemex said in a news release that it was canceling some training exercises at oil rigs, but all installations were functioning normally.
Carlos Morales, director of Pemex Production and Exploration, told Reuters that oil production has not been affected at all by the hurricane.
Residents, shop keepers and government workers boarded up houses and businesses along the coast.
"These are just precautionary measures," said worker Francisco Velazquez, who led a group of five men wearing raincoats and wielding hammers and nails as they boarded windows at a government office in Chetumal.
CANCUN NOT HIT
While the eye of Ernesto did not hit the region's major resort of Cancun, some rain fell in the area, which is packed with local and international visitors this time of the year.
Tourism officials said they were not evacuating any of Cancun's tourist area, but hotel staff advised guests to stay in their rooms in the evening.
Hotel staff had also removed deck chairs, tables and other potential projectiles from the beaches.
Authorities also declared alcohol bans in the towns of Tulum and Felipe Carrillo Puerto and Chetumal airport was closed to all flights from mid-afternoon.
Cancun, some 230 miles (380 km) to the north of the storm's forecast path, was devastated in 2005 by Hurricane Wilma, the most intense storm ever recorded in the Atlantic.
Hurricane warnings were extended northwards to the resort island of Cozumel from Chetumal and include the entire coast of low-lying Belize. A tropical storm warning remained in effect for the Atlantic coasts of Honduras and Nicaragua.
One cruise ship that was due to dock at Cozumel on Wednesday canceled its visit and another was diverted to Veracruz, in the Gulf of Mexico.
Heavy rain hit northern Honduras early Tuesday but there were no reports of damage.
Rainfall of 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm), and possibly 12 inches (30 cm) in some areas, was expected over Belize and the southern portions of the Yucatan peninsula.
Belize's government said 175 residents of outlying islands had voluntarily moved to safer ground, and 21 emergency shelters had opened to house evacuees.
August and September are usually the most active months of the Atlantic-Caribbean hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. - Reuters