August 30, 2006

Hurricane John heads for Mexican resorts

By Tomas Sarmiento

MANZANILLO, Mexico (Reuters) - Hurricane John roared past
Mexico's Pacific coast on Wednesday as a dangerous Category 3
storm, pummeling beach resorts with heavy rain and winds and
threatening flash flooding and mudslides.

Residents of the busy port of Manzanillo boarded up doors
and windows, and those living by hills were moved to emergency
shelters as authorities warned the town would be buffeted by
big sea swells and strong winds overnight.

The federal government extended a hurricane warning 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.

"We're pretty worried because they are expecting this
hurricane to be strong," said customs official Jaime Gonzalez,
49, moving freight crates out of harm's way at his office in
the port of Manzanillo.

As darkness fell the sky was an ominous dark gray and
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.

"What worries me most is if there is a mudslide. Here, the
people most at risk are those living in the hills," Gonzalez

John was moving slowly northwest parallel to the coast
about 65 miles southwest of Manzanillo. It was about 375 miles
south of the tip of baja california.

Earlier on Wednesday 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.

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


At 10 p.m. local (0300 GMT) 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 areas.

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.

Hotels in Los Cabos warned guests of the possible dangers.

"If a hurricane comes, they are no longer guests, they are
refugees," said Jean Louis Magron, the resident manager of the
Dreams Los Cabos Suites, a big hotel on the beach.

Some boating trips were canceled.

"We're watching it real closely. Everyone's taking it very
seriously," said Minerva Saenz, who charters boats out to
tourists in Los Cabos for deep-sea fishing trips.

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.

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

(Additional reporting by Tomas Sarmiento in Manzanillo and
Gunther Hamm in Mexico City)