| GEO World|
Hurricane Paula menaces Mexico, Cuba next
| Updated at: 1252 PST, Wednesday, October 13, 2010|
CANCUN: Mexico evacuated tourists and residents from islands off the Yucatan peninsula on Tuesday as Hurricane Paula, a Category 2 storm, was on track to sideswipe Mexico's Caribbean resorts before heading towards Cuba.
Packing winds of 100 miles per hour (160 kph), the storm was expected to brush past the Yucatan coast, home to hundreds of resorts, before veering towards Cuba on Wednesday, the U.S. National Hurricane centre said.
As it neared the Yucatan coast, Paula poured heavy rains on Cancun, Mexico's biggest tourist destination, and threatened to flood poor, outlying slums.
The Miami-based centre said Paula was a 'small' Category 2 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale.
The storm was not forecast to hit Mexico's main offshore oil-producing region in the Gulf of Mexico. Paula also spared Central America's coffee-growing region, which has already been battered this year by heavy rains, as it churned past the coast of Honduras on Monday.
Tourists kept out of the streets along the famed strip of hotels, discos and restaurants lining Cancun's white sand beaches. Locals rushed to stock up on supplies like water, food and gasoline, forming long lines at stores.
Cancun's mayor said several poor neighbourhoods could be flooded.
"There will be a lot of rain and a lot of wind for a few hours. We are prepared," said Mayor Jaime Hernandez.
At least 22 flights planned for Tuesday and early Wednesday were cancelled at Cancun's airport, an airport spokesman said. He urged people to not come to the airport unless they had a confirmed flight.
A hurricane warning was in effect for the coast of Mexico from Punta Allen northward to Cabo Catoche, including the tourist island of Cozumel, and Cuba's Pinar del Rio province.
Ferry trips to the Yucatan's outlying islands Cozumel, Isla Mujeres and Holbox were cancelled for Tuesday evening and cruise ships scheduled to dock on Cozumel were rerouted at least until Thursday, island officials said.
There are currently around 30,000 tourists in Quintana Roo, the state where Cancun is located, and over a dozen shelters have been set up to receive people fleeing the storm from around Cancun and Cozumel.
Around 2,500 people were evacuated from the tiny island of Holbox, where tourists flock to catch sight of flamingos, wild birds and rare whale sharks.
Residents of Cozumel boarded up windows and bought canned food and water ahead of the storm. Cozumel, which attracts scuba divers, was hard-hit by Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
Spanish tourist Marcus Soria said he and his wife were not worried about the oncoming storm. "Everything was calm. We listened to the news and played bingo," Soria said.
The hurricane centre said at 2200 CDT (0300 GMT) that Paula was located about 70 miles (115 km) southeast of Cozumel and was heading north.
Little change in strength was expected, it said, and the storm was projected to turn to the northeast overnight and reach Cuba by Wednesday night or Thursday morning.
Paula was expected to dump 3 to 6 inches (7.5 to 15 cm) of rain over eastern portions of the Yucatan peninsula and parts of western and central Cuba, with isolated maximum amounts of 10 inches (25.5 cm) of rain, the centre said.
The rains could cause life-threatening flash floods in Cuba's mountains, the storm centre said.
Paula swept through Honduras on Monday when it was still a tropical storm, but there were no reports of deaths or damage to coffee crops in one of Central America's biggest producers.
The storm comes as Mexico and Central America grapple with one of the wettest hurricane seasons in recent memory. Heavy rains have caused severe flooding and serious agricultural losses across parts of Mexico.