Mexican Coast, Cancun on Alert for Hurricane Paula

By Isela Serrano | October 13, 2010

Hurricane Paula, the ninth hurricane of the busy 2010 Atlantic season, churned toward the east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula Tuesday, putting the tourist hub of Cancun on high alert.

A hurricane warning was in effect for the eastern Yucatan coast from Punta Gruesa to Cabo Catoche, including the tourist island of Cozumel. Some islands were preparing for evacuations, Mexican emergency officials said.

(Catastrophe risk modeler EQECAT’s current best estimate of insured losses for the event is less than $200 million, but EQECAT noted that the overall impact of Paula on the Yucatan peninsula is still uncertain, and that loss estimates are very sensitive to the actual wind speed footprint, storm track, and severity of localized flooding, all of which are currently uncertain.)

Paula is expected to bring heavy rains to the eastern Yucatan and parts of western and central Cuba, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said, but skies were still clear ahead of the storm in Cancun Tuesday morning.

The Miami-based hurricane center said Paula, a small Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity, was packing top sustained winds of 75 mph.

It was expected to approach the Yucatan peninsula late Tuesday and Wednesday.

The storm was not forecast to hit Mexico’s main offshoreoil-producing region in the Gulf of Mexico and, passing off the coast of Honduras and Belize, did not cause further damage to coffee-producing areas in Central America already battered this year by heavy rains.

“Fortunately for Mexico, Paula has not been able to maintain its rapid intensification rate,” hurricane expert Jeff Masters of private U.S. forecaster Weather Underground wrote on Tuesday in his blog.

“The main threat from the storm will be heavy rain, particularly over western Cuba and the northeastern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, if Paula stalls as expected and wanders in the region for many days,” he wrote.

At 1000 a.m. CDT, Paula was located about 155 miles south-southeast of Cozumel, moving steadily northwestward, the hurricane center said.

It said some strengthening was possible over the next two days. Forecasts showed Paula swinging northeast toward western Cuba and weakening back into a tropical storm later in the week.

Paula, then a tropical storm, swept through Honduras on Monday, its winds knocking over trees and its rains destroying several wooden houses in remote Honduran coastal towns.

Small mudslides blocked some roads, but there were no reports of injuries or deaths, Honduran newspaper La Prensa said on its website.

Several cruiseships due to arrive in Cozumel Wednesday might be diverted, a civil protection source there said.

(Additional reporting by Vicki Allen in Washington, Pascal Fletcher in Miami, Orfa Mejia in Tegucigalpa and Anahi Rama in Mexico City; Editing by Missy Ryan and Jerry Norton)

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