Mexican authorities set up emergency shelters and cruise ships shifted course on Tuesday as Hurricane Rina strengthened off the Caribbean coast, following a projected track that has it whirling through Cancun and the resort-filled Mayan Riviera, Mexico’s most popular tourist destination.
Rina’s maximum sustained winds have increased to 110 mph (175 kph), said the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, making it a Category 2 storm. Forecasters predict it will strengthen as it nears the Mexican coast Wednesday night before rolling over the island of Cozumel, a popular dive spot and cruise-ship port, then along the coast to Cancun.
Authorities decided to evacuate the small, low-lying fishing village of Punta Allen, just south of Tulum, said Quintana Roo state Civil Defense Director Luis Carlos Rodriguez.
Soldiers, marines and state police arrived with vehicles in Punta Allen Tuesday to evacuate about 275 residents and take them to a storm shelter at a middle school; about 500 people are expected to be evacuated there in total.
The coastal area around Tulum is dotted with Mayan ruins, and further north is Playa del Carmen, another popular spot for international tourists and the departure point for ferries serving Cozumel.
Douglas Baird, 40, of Glasgow, Scotland, said he had been in Playa del Carmen for 11 days on a tour with 10 other people. He plans to stay for the five remaining days of his vacation.
“I’ll go to the bar,” he said about his plans for waiting out his first hurricane. “It won’t be a problem.”
State Tourism Director Juan Carlos Gonzalez Hernandez said there were about 83,000 tourists in the state, with about 45,000 of those in stretch of coast south of Cancun that includes Tulum and Playa de Carmen, and almost 28,000 in Cancun.
There were only about 1,719 tourists in Cozumel, and many of them were leaving, Gonzalez Hernandez said.
“In the case of Cozumel, which could be hit hardest, people are leaving of their own accord and are cutting their reservations short,” said Gonzalez Hernandez.
Cancun Tourism Director Maximo Garcia said authorities had asked hotel managers to warn tourists of the hurricane.
But Wendy Powers, a 49-year-old from Louisiana who was taking a stroll at a shopping mall with two other friends, said she hadn’t heard anything about the storm until a reporter told her about it. Still, she said she wasn’t worried.
“We had Katrina and we survived it,” Ms. Powers said. “If the one coming here is a category 1 or 2, we could have a beach party.”
Laura Valles, a receptionist at the Hotel Jashita in coastal Tulum, said four of its 15 guests moved inland to hotels at the archaeological site of Chichen Itza, some 90 miles (150 kilometers) west, and others were still deciding what to do.
“We are letting those with a reservation know they will have to change their dates,” Ms. Valles said.
Yassir Espinoza, a clerk at the small Plaza Azul hotel in Cozumel, said tourists were being warned of the impending storm.
“We told them if there is a hurricane there won’t be any electricity or water for at least three days,” she said.
In Cancun’s hotel zone, a string of pickup trucks hauled small boats and jet skis away from marinas, while workers at shopping malls began boarding up windows.
At least eight cruise ships were changing itineraries away from the storm’s path, said Carnival Cruise Lines spokesman Vance Gulliksen.
Three cruise ships from the company Norwegian and one from Royal Caribbean have cancelled their Friday port of call in the area, said Hiram Toledo, Quintana Roo port administrator.
The area was badly damaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, when Cancun’s famous white-sand beaches were largely washed away. Insurance officials estimated total damage at $3 billion.
State officials said they were readying more than 1,100 shelters that could handle nearly 200,000 people, though so far there was no word of any planned evacuations.
The hurricane was centred about 250 miles (405 kilometres) southeast of Cozumel Tuesday afternoon and was moving west at near 3 mph (6 kph), the Hurricane Centre said.
Forecasters said Rina was likely to strengthen into a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of about 115 mph (185 kph) by night.
The forecast track shows it curving east toward Cuba by the weekend, but senior hurricane specialist Michael Brennan at the hurricane centre said it could also move toward southern Florida.
The centre said the storm could produce as much as 16 inches (40 centimetres) of rain over at least parts of the eastern Yucatan Peninsula while raising water levels by as much as 5 to 7 feet (about a metre) in places.
The rainfall particularly worries authorities in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco, where about 300,000 people are still flooded following eight days of heavy rains.
In Central America, which was affected earlier by Rina’s outer bands, fishermen on Monday found a Nicaraguan navy boat that had gone missing with 29 people aboard. It had been used to evacuate an island.