Mexico's Caribbean coast braces for Hurricane Grace

CANCÚN, MEXICO (AFP) – Hurricane Grace bore down on Mexico’s Caribbean coast on Wednesday (Aug 18), grounding flights and forcing tourists in some hotels along the Riviera Maya to hunker down overnight in storm shelters.

A hurricane warning was in effect for a string of beach resorts, including Cancun, on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) in Miami said.

At least 124 flights to or from Cancun were cancelled, the city’s mayor, Ms Mara Lezama, said on Twitter.

The Category One hurricane – the lowest on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale – was packing maximum sustained winds of 130 kilometres per hour, according to the NHC.

It was located 201km east of the Mexican resort town of Tulum late on Wednesday and expected to make landfall early on Thursday, having already drenched earthquake-stricken Haiti, the NHC said.

“Hotels in Tulum have been evacuated and the tourists taken to various hotel shelters,” said Mr Carlos Joaquin, governor of the southeastern state of Quintana Roo.

Another 125 people from neighbouring municipalities were also evacuated, while sea crossings to nearby islands were suspended and ports were closed, he said on Twitter.

After it has crossed the Yucatan, the storm was expected to move over the southwest Gulf of Mexico before lashing the eastern states of Veracruz and Tamaulipas.

Grace was “expected to bring strong winds and a dangerous storm surge” to parts of the Yucatan, according to the NHC.

“Heavy rainfall from Grace will likely result in areas of flash and urban flooding, and will also be capable of producing mudslides,” it said.

The storm surge will be accompanied by “large and destructive waves” near the coast, the NHC warned.

Businesses on the Riviera Maya boarded up windows, while fishermen and tour operators hauled their boats onto land and tourists soaked up the final hours in the sun.

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At supermarkets in Cancun, some residents stocked up on food in preparation for the storm’s arrival, although the authorities called on people to avoid panic buying.

“We don’t know what it will be like,” said 41-year-old housewife Hortencia Rodriguez.

“With Wilma, we didn’t prepare and we were hit hard,” she said, referring to a Category 5 hurricane that pummelled Cancun in 2005.

Authorities in Quintana Roo set up 85 shelters for people who needed refuge from the storm.

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