Tags: Dean | Bears | Down | Mexico | Coast

Dean Bears Down on Mexico Coast

Monday, 20 August 2007 12:00 AM

Hurricane Dean, a giant storm that has killed nine people in the Caribbean, bore down on Mexican beach resorts on Monday, threatening to devastate a coastline still recovering from a cyclone two years ago.

Tens of thousands of foreign tourists have fled Mexico's "Mayan Riviera," a strip of vacation centers with white sands and crystal clear seas just north of Dean's path.

Packing sustained winds of around 150 miles per hour (240 km per hour), as it barreled toward the Yucatan Peninsula, Dean was likely to become a rare Category 5 -- the strongest type of hurricane -- before making landfall early on Tuesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Dean swiped Jamaica at the weekend with howling winds and pelting rain. Roads were blocked by toppled trees and power poles.

The U.S. space shuttle Endeavour got ready to head back to Earth from the International Space Station a day early in case the storm forces NASA to evacuate its Houston center.

The approaching storm brought back nightmare memories in Mexico of Hurricane Wilma, one of the strongest Atlantic storms recorded, which wrecked Cancun and other resorts in 2005. It washed away whole beaches, killed some seven people and caused $2.6 billion in damages that are yet to be fully repaired.

"A Category 5 is horrible. We've been through that," said Marcos Ruiz, 31, a tourism ministry official in the resort of Tulum. "The wind is so strong you can't breathe. We're very frightened."

RESORT AT RISK

Tulum, popular with European tourists, was particularly in danger as many of its arty hotels are built on or right next to big white beaches.

Radio stations were broadcasting storm warnings in the local Maya Indian language aimed at residents who do not speak Spanish.

Some 55,000 tourists fled Cancun at the weekend but the resort, whose five-star hotels were gutted by rain and wind in 2005, was not forecast to take a major hit this time around.

The windows of shops and restaurants on the vacation island of Cozumel, a major scuba diving center, were boarded up as winds slowly began to get stronger.

The latest computer tracking models forecast the hurricane would spare the U.S. Gulf Coast but cross the Yucatan to the Bay of Campeche and then hit central Mexico.

Four people were killed in Haiti, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, putting the number killed at nine since Dean roared into the Caribbean as the first hurricane of what is expected to be a busy 2007 storm season.

Shipments of crude from Gulf of Mexico port Dos Bocas were suspended, Mexican oil monopoly Pemex said.

The storm was passing on Monday around 125 miles to the southwest of the tiny Cayman Islands, a British territory in the western Caribbean.

Belize, an English-speaking country home to some 250,000 people and a famous barrier reef, was also in Dean's sights.

Jamaican authorities said 300,000 people were displaced by the storm. No fatalities were confirmed, although one man was reported missing after falling trees tore into his house.

"The wind came over for a long time and you could feel the vibration from the wind, it was little bit more harsh like an earthquake," said Michael Henry, 37, a Jamaican fisherman.

Mudslides were reported across the island and police said they shot and wounded two men caught trying to break into a Kingston business during the storm.

Category 5 hurricanes are rare but in 2005 there were four, including Katrina, which wrecked New Orleans. That dramatic storm season reinforced research that suggests global warming may increase the strength of tropical cyclones.

© reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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Hurricane Dean, a giant storm that has killed nine people in the Caribbean, bore down on Mexican beach resorts on Monday, threatening to devastate a coastline still recovering from a cyclone two years ago. Tens of thousands of foreign tourists have fled Mexico's...
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Monday, 20 August 2007 12:00 AM
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