August 31, 2006

Hurricane John lashes Mexico

By Tomas Sarmiento

MANZANILLO, Mexico (Reuters) - Hurricane John punished
Mexican ports and beaches with huge sea surges, heavy rains and
strong winds early on Thursday as the dangerous Category 3
storm swirled in the Pacific Ocean off the coast.

The hurricane could dump a foot (0.3 meter) of rain,
causing landslides or flooding and had maximum sustained winds
approaching 125 mph (205 kph) that could produce isolated storm
surges of up to 18 feet, uproot trees and rip roofs off

Residents in the busy port of Manzanillo boarded up doors
and windows, and those living along hills were moved to
emergency shelters as authorities warned the town would be
buffeted overnight.

"They've said it's going to be strong. We're making sure
nothing will happen to the shop, and then we're going home,"
said Juana Martinez, 25, a clothes shop attendant as she taped
up windows and placed clothes in cardboard boxes.

The Mexican government said its hurricane warning extended
from the southern steel-making port of Lazaro Cardenas up the
Pacific coast to the tip of the Baja California peninsula,
popular with tourists and yachtsmen.

The hurricane crawled in the Pacific parallel to the coast
at 15 mph (24 kph) about 75 miles southwest of Manzanillo. It
was about 370 miles south of the tip of Baja California.

Maximum sustained winds at 11 p.m. local on Wednesday (0600
GMT on Thursday) approached 125 mph (205 kph), giving the
hurricane the punch capable of life-threatening flooding, mud
slides in mountainous areas and severe damage to property.

Rainfall of 6 to 10 inches, with isolated deluges of 18
inches, were possible along the Pacific coast in the warning
areas, forecasters said.


Manzanillo hotels said the few tourists in the town -- a
commercial and fishing port and a haven for U.S. and Canadian
fishermen -- had left early, and others had canceled bookings.

All the way up the coast emergency workers were on alert
for mudslides and flash floods. Authorities feared John could
make a direct hit later this week on Baja California.

Earlier, the busy tourist resort of Acapulco had sea surges
of up to 10 feet. Seafront roads were ankle-deep in water and
people struggled to stay on their feet in 135 mph (215 kph)
winds that knocked down trees.

At 10 p.m. local (0300 GMT Thursday) the Miami-based
National Hurricane Center downgraded John one mark to a
Category 3 storm but warned that heavy rainfall could cause
"life-threatening flash floods" and mud slides in mountainous

It said that on its current track, John was moving
west-northwest and would remain off the coast, but said a small
deviation in its path could bring it onshore.

"Although the center of John is forecast to remain
offshore, winds to hurricane force are expected within the
hurricane warning area," it added.

In October, Hurricane Wilma smashed up Cancun and other
beach resorts on Mexico's Caribbean coast. It caused massive
damage, sucking away large stretches of beach and stranding
tens of thousands of tourists in makeshift shelters for days.