Mexican authorities have set up emergency shelters and cruise ships have shifted course after Hurricane Rina strengthened into a Category 2 storm off the Caribbean coast.
The hurricane, which currently has maximum sustained winds of 110mph, is expected to slam into the resort-filled Mayan Riviera in the Yucatan Peninsula on Thursday and track through Mexico’s most popular tourist destination.
Forecasters predict Rina will strengthen as it nears the Mexican coast tonight, before rolling over the island of Cozumel, a well-known dive spot and cruise-ship port, then along the coast to Cancun.
Authorities decided to evacuate the small, low-lying fishing village of Punta Allen, just south of Tulum, said Quintana Roo state civil defence director Luis Carlos Rodriguez.
Soldiers, marines and state police arrived with vehicles in Punta Allen yesterday to evacuate about 275 people and take them to a storm shelter at a middle school; about 500 are expected to be evacuated there in total.
The coastal area around Tulum is dotted with Mayan ruins, and further north is Playa del Carmen, another popular spot for international tourists and the departure point for ferries serving Cozumel.
State tourism director Juan Carlos Gonzalez Hernandez said there were about 83,000 tourists in the state, with about 45,000 of those in stretch of coast south of Cancun that includes Tulum and Playa del Carmen, and almost 28,000 in Cancun.
There were only about 1,719 tourists in Cozumel, and many of them were leaving, Mr Gonzalez Hernandez said.
‘In the case of Cozumel, which could be hit hardest, people are leaving of their own accord and are cutting their reservations short,’ he said.
Cancun tourism director Maximo Garcia said authorities had asked hotel managers to warn tourists of the hurricane and local businesses reported tourists heading inland to stay in more protected areas.
Forecasters said Rina was likely to strengthen into a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of about 115mph.
The forecast track shows it curving east toward Cuba by the weekend, but senior hurricane specialist Michael Brennan at Miami’s National Hurricane Center (NHC) said it could also move towards southern Florida.
The centre said the storm could produce as much as 16ins of rain over at least parts of the eastern Yucatan Peninsula while raising water levels by as much as 5-7ft in places.
At least eight cruise ships were changing itineraries away from the storm’s path, said Carnival Cruise Lines spokesman Vance Gulliksen.
Three cruise ships from the company Norwegian Cruise Lines and one from Royal Caribbean have cancelled their Friday port of call in the area, said Hiram Toledo, Quintana Roo port administrator.
The area was badly damaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, when Cancun’s famous white-sand beaches were largely washed away. Insurance officials estimated total damage at $3billion.
State officials said they were readying more than 1,100 shelters that could handle nearly 200,000 people, though so far there was no word of any planned evacuations.
The NHC said the storm could produce as much as 16ins of rain over at least parts of the eastern Yucatan Peninsula while raising water levels by as much as 5-7ft in places.
The rainfall particularly worries authorities in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco, where about 300,000 people are still flooded following eight days of heavy rains.
In Central America, which was affected earlier by Rina’s outer bands, fishermen found a Nicaraguan navy boat that had gone missing with 29 people aboard. It had been used to evacuate an island.