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Hurricane Emily on Course to Slam Mexico

July 20, 2005

LA PESCA, Mexico (AP) _ Hurricane Emily slowed down late Tuesday night but was still on course to slam into Mexico for a second time as its outer rings began thrashing the country’s northeastern coast and triggered evacuations as far away as southern Texas.

Packing sustained winds of 125 mph, the hurricane’s approach fell by about half to 7 mph, allowing it to strengthen even further over Gulf waters. Emily’s eye was likely to come ashore early Wednesday morning, near this small fishing village popular with Mexican and U.S. tourists.

The storm has already struck Mexico once, ripping roofs off resort hotels and stranding thousands of tourists along the Mayan Riviera, which includes the resort of Cancun.

Residents rushed to nail plywood boards over windows and doors, while Mexican army trucks roamed the streets collecting evacuees laden with suitcases and rolled-up blankets.

The town was among at least 20 low-lying, seaside Mexican communities being emptied of residents before the storm, which was expected to hit a sparsely populated stretch of coastline just south of the Texas border.

In southern Texas, campers emptied beachfront parks on South Padre Island, residents piled sandbags to hold back possible floodwaters and schools were turned into shelters. But for many there, the huge waves were just too much to pass up.

``It is amazing,″ said Marc Lambert, a tourist from New York who spent two hours boogie-boarding before the storm. ``It is cool to see what Mother Nature can do.″

Some 150 miles south, in La Pesca, the approaching storm brought a steady wind that blew across the town and breakers skittered toward the abandoned beach. Residents boarded up windows and tied down tin roofs of their homes.

Felipe Portillo, a 67-year-old fisherman, helped his sons haul five small, fiberglass fishing boats off the beach and up to the roadside, away from the water. Then they planned to head to a shelter inland.

``Overconfidence kills men,″ Portillo said. ``Running is your best defense.″

Some residents were taken to a naval base on a relatively high point on the edge of town where excited children raced giddily about, shrieking and laughing as their parents settled in.

``Now that there is help, we must accept it,″ said Marta Neri, a 30-year-old who arrived with her three small children.

She said she hadn’t gone farther inland because she couldn’t afford to pay a bus or taxi.

Emily hit the Yucatan Peninsula on Monday as a fierce Category 4 storm with 135 mph winds, causing millions of dollars in damage. Hundreds of local residents were left homeless, but no deaths or major injuries were reported.

The storm weakened, but once back out to sea it strengthened to a Category 3 hurricane, with sustained winds of 125 mph Tuesday night.

Mexico and U.S. oil companies evacuated workers from offshore oil installations in the northern Gulf of Mexico as Hurricane Emily swept toward the U.S.-Mexico border. Some 16,000 workers were told to return to Mexican installations in the southern Gulf on Wednesday.

Emily didn’t appear to have caused any major damage in the southern Gulf, although state-run Petroleos Mexicanos was still surveying the rigs.

Among those leaving for the second strike was Donald Laray, a 60-year-old Texan who moved to Mexico 10 years ago. He was using a pickup truck to haul a recreational vehicle out of a beachfront lot where he was planning to build a hotel.

``It’s been just about two days without sleep,″ he said, referring to rushed preparations for the storm.

Meanwhile, earlier on Tuesday Mexico had issued Pacific storm watches related to Tropical Storm Eugene, which was swirling far off the tip of the Baja Peninsula. But Eugene later lost power and moved away from land.


On the Net:

National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov

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