Hurricane Ernesto closes in on Mexican coast 0
CHETUMAL, Mexico - Hurricane Ernesto closed in on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula on Tuesday, pouring rain over the city of Chetumal and sending some residents and tourists into shelters.
Ernesto had top sustained winds of 85 miles per hour (140 km per hour) and was located 65 miles (105 km) east of Chetumal, Mexico, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said in its 8:00 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) advisory.
Heavy rains showered Chetumal throughout the afternoon, filling much of the downtown with puddles of water up to six inches (18 cm) deep.
Authorities set up 35 shelters in the city, with space for thousands, but by early evening only a few dozen had taken refuge.
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 predicted to hit the Mexican coast north of Chetumal later Tuesday night.
Luis Carlos Rodriguez, director of Civil Protection for Quintana Roo state, said the eye of the hurricane will likely plough into a small fishing village called Punta Gruesa.
“Fortunately, it is a lightly populated area,” Rodriguez, said.
Ernesto is then forecast to reemerge Wednesday in the southern Gulf of Mexico, where state oil company Pemex has port facilities and offshore platforms.
Pemex has said it was keeping an eye on the hurricane but there were no reports of evacuations or shipping restrictions.
Carlos Morales, director of Pemex Production and Exploration, told Reuters that oil production has not been affected at all by the hurricane.
Earlier on Tuesday, authorities from Quintana Roo state ordered the evacuation of some 1,500 people in the southern portion of the state, known for its scuba diving and eco-tourism attractions.
“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 is not expected to 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.
Ernesto is a category one hurricane, the lowest on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.
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 which 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 four to eight 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.
(Additional reporting by Isela Serrano in Cancun, Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Mike McDonald in Guatemala City and Cyntia Barrera in Mexico City; Writing by Ioan Grillo, Editing by Krista Hughes, Eric Walsh and Jackie Frank)