Hurricane Rina nears Mexico, expected to weaken

October 26, 2011

The Associated Press

CANCUN, Mexico  — Authorities evacuated fishing communities and closed schools on Mexico's resort-studded Caribbean coast while some tourists began to leave as Hurricane Rina took aim at Cancun and the island of Cozumel on Wednesday.

Hundreds of residents from the fishing town of Punta Allen, south of Tulum, were taken to emergency shelters, a smaller group was evacuated from the atoll of Banco Chinchorro Tuesday, and cruise ships shifted their routes in the face of expected storm surges, waves and heavy rains from Rina.

Rina's maximum sustained winds remained steady at about 110 mph (175 kph) Wednesday morning, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, making it a Category 2 storm. Forecasters predicted it could weaken in the next 12 to 24 hours, though it is expected to remain a hurricane as it nears the Mexican coast Wednesday night before rolling over the island of Cozumel, a popular dive spot and cruise-ship port, and the Cancun area.

Luh McDevitt, 56, a furniture and interior designer in Cozumel, said her family was fitting hurricane shutters to the house and securing furniture.

"I am not really scared," said the Cincinnati, Ohio, native who has lived in Cozumel since 2000. "Hurricane Andrew in 1992 was a Category 5. The worst part of the hurricane is after. We didn't have electric in our house for three weeks."

Jorge Arturo Cruz, spokesman for the education department in Quintana Roo state, said schools were closed in communities along the coast and in Cozumel in anticipation of the storm.

Soldiers, marines and state police arrived with vehicles in Punta Allen on Tuesday to evacuate about 275 residents and take them to a storm shelter at a middle school; about 500 people are expected to be evacuated there in total, according to Quintana Roo state Civil Defense Director Luis Carlos Rodriguez.

The coastal area around Tulum is dotted with Mayan ruins, and further north is Playa del Carmen, another popular spot for international tourists and the departure point for ferries serving Cozumel.

State Tourism Director Juan Carlos Gonzalez Hernandez said there were about 83,000 tourists in the state, with about 45,000 of those on a stretch of coast south of Cancun that includes Tulum and Playa de Carmen, and almost 28,000 in Cancun.

There were only about 1,719 tourists in Cozumel, and many of them were leaving, Gonzalez Hernandez said.

"In the case of Cozumel, which could be hit hardest, people are leaving of their own accord and are cutting their reservations short," said Gonzalez Hernandez.

At least eight cruise ships were changing itineraries away from the storm's path, said Carnival Cruise Lines spokesman Vance Gulliksen.

The area was badly damaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, when Cancun's famous white-sand beaches were largely washed away. Insurance officials estimated total damage at $3 billion.

State officials said they were readying more than 1,100 shelters that could handle nearly 200,000 people, though so far there was no word of any planned evacuations.

The hurricane was centered about 200 miles (325 kilometers) south-southeast of Cozumel on Wednesday and was moving northwest at near 5 mph (7 kph), the Hurricane Center said. A hurricane warning is in effect for the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula from north of Punta Gruesa to Cancun.

The Mexican government issued a hurricane warning for the northeast coast of the Yucatan peninsula from Cancun to San Felipe. A tropical storm warning is in effect farther south on the peninsula from Chetumal to Punta Gruesa.

The projected track shows it curving east toward Cuba and the Straits of Florida by early next week, though the Hurricane Center cautioned "there is great uncertainty as to where Rina will be located by the weekend."

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