August 29, 2006

Hurricane John endangers Mexican Pacific coast

By Chris Aspin

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

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said John was
quickly strengthening, packing maximum sustained winds of
almost 90 mph with higher gusts.

Storm warnings were posted for a long stretch of coastline
from Acapulco to the steel-making port of Lazaro Cardenas, as
John became the sixth hurricane of the east Pacific season.

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 pounded Acapulco and the surfing resort of
Puerto Escondido, further to the southeast, and witnesses in
both tourist centers reported threatening dark gray skies after
overnight rain.

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, forecasting the hurricane
will become stronger and more dangerous later on Tuesday.

It was not expected to make a direct hit on Acapulco,
rather brush past the resort city where some 1 million people


John, a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale
which goes up to a top notch of five, is located about 170
miles south of Acapulco and is slowly moving northwest parallel
to the coast.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said by Wednesday it
could become a Category 3 hurricane -- a dangerous storm -- and
still hovering off the Mexican coast.

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 told Reuters.

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

The nearby 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)