August 29, 2006

Hurricane John closes in on Mexico

By Chris Aspin

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Hurricane John grew into a powerful
cyclone off Mexico's Pacific Coast on Tuesday, threatening to
trigger dangerous flash floods and mudslides as it neared
Acapulco and other tourist resorts.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said John turned
into a dangerous storm in just a few hours, was now packing
maximum sustained winds of almost 115 mph (185 kph) with higher
gusts and could increase in strength overnight.

John, upgraded to a Category 3 hurricane on the
Saffir-Simpson scale which goes up to a top notch of five, is
located about 120 miles southwest of Acapulco and is slowly
moving northwest parallel to the coast.

Hurricane conditions are expected within 24-hours along a
stretch of coastline northwest of Acapulco that includes the
resort of Manzanillo -- popular with North American sailfish
fisherman -- and the steel port of Lazaro Cardenas.

Category 3 hurricanes can create sea surges of 9 to 12 feet
above normal, cause structural damage to small homes, blow down
large trees and destroy mobile homes.

A storm warning was posted for an area covering Acapulco,
although the hurricane was not expected to make a direct hit on
the resort city where some 1 million people live.

"Some additional strengthening is forecast during the next
24 hours and John could become a category four hurricane," The
Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.

Rainfall of 2 to 4 inches and isolated deluges of 8 inches
were possible along the coast.

"These amounts could cause life-threatening flash floods
and mudslides over areas of mountainous terrain," the hurricane
center said.


Heavy sea swells and rain pounded Acapulco.

Dozens of coastal towns and cities were told to keep on
alert, according to Mexico's civil protection agency. Ships and
boats were warned to take extreme precautions.

"John is intensifying rapidly," the agency said in an
early-warning note on its Web site.

The storm formed on Monday and quickly picked up power to
become a Category 1 hurricane early on Tuesday before being
upgraded two notches inside a few hours.

Nadya Velas, spokeswoman for civil protection in Guerrero
state, home to Acapulco, said there were no plans for the
moment to evacuate coastal fishing towns or mountain villages
under threat from floods or mudslides.

"But since we heard it had become a hurricane we have
stepped up the monitoring," Velas said.

John is expected to pound Acapulco with wind and rain and
then batter other coastal resorts like Manzanillo, Puerto
Vallarta and Los Cabos in the Baja California peninsula in
coming days.

The port of Salina Cruz, which exports crude oil to Asia,
was open but on alert, with the port authority reporting wind
and choppy seas.

State oil monopoly Pemex also has a refinery at Salina
Cruz, southeast of Acapulco, with refining capacity of 330,000
barrels per day. The hurricane was moving further away from the
oil port.

(Additional reporting by Catherine Bremer)