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Mexico tourist zone braces for Hurricane Rina

A weakened Hurricane Rina continued churning toward Mexico’s Caribbean coast Wednesday, prompting authorities in the popular tourist zone to close ports and schools ahead of the storm.

Rina, downgraded to a Category 1 storm with top sustained winds of 85 mph, was expected to make landfall around noon Thursday on the island of Cozumel, whose nearby reefs are favored by divers. The resorts of Cancun were also in the hurricane’s projected path.

Coastal communities were told to expect the first hurricane-force winds and heavy rain Thursday morning. But forecasters said it was possible that Rina’s curling path could keep it at sea.

PHOTOS: Hurricane Rina

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By Wednesday afternoon, the hurricane was 170 miles southeast of Cozumel and angling toward land at 6 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

A hurricane warning was in effect for most of the northeastern coast of the Yucatan peninsula, including Cancun, Cozumel and Isla Mujeres, another tourist draw.

Mexico’s government issued an alert for the state of Quintana Roo, home to Cancun’s beachside high-rises, plus dozens of beachfront resorts along a picturesque white sand coast to the south known as the Riviera Maya.

Although Rina appeared to have lost some strength, authorities said they were taking no chances.

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“Our country has suffered a lot with even lesser conditions, with tropical depressions and tropical storms that are supposedly lower categories and at times generate much bigger disasters,” said Adrian Vazquez, chief of Mexico’s weather service.

Alberto Gonzalez, government secretary for Quintana Roo, said 82,000 tourists were in the state, mostly in and around the Cancun area, but evacuations had not begun yet. The area was badly damaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

Cancun’s airport was operating normally, although some flights were canceled. But seaports and schools shut down and aquatic sports, such as diving and snorkeling, were prohibited.

Mexican authorities opened 1,131 shelters and evacuated 580 people in coastal towns most at risk of storm damage.

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Military personnel were on standby and the government’s social development agency prepared loads of bottled water, canned tuna, beans, sugar, milk and other staples, along with trucks to distribute the supplies.

PHOTOS: Hurricane Rina

ken.ellingwood@latimes.com


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