by Staff Writers
Cancun, Mexico (AFP) Oct 28, 2011
Mexico's resort-dotted Caribbean coast dodged a bullet on Friday as Tropical Storm Rina weakened to a depression after uprooting trees and causing power outages, but failing to deliver a knockout punch.
Rina had swirled toward the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula as a category two hurricane earlier in the week, putting Mexican and Belize authorities on high alert, prompting thousands of tourists to flee, and leading to mandatory evacuation orders in some areas.
The eye of the storm passed 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of the sprawling beach resort of Cancun, hours after locals scrambled to tape up windows and officials hurriedly opened emergency shelters as Rina threatened low-lying areas across the Yucatan with heavy rain and wind.
It continued to weaken as it hovered near hotspots on the "Mayan Riviera" such as Playa del Carmen, Cancun and Cozumel, famous for its snow-white sands and clear sea, and by mid-day Friday it lost its tropical storm status.
Maximum winds decreased to near 55 kilometers (35 miles) per hour, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.
"Additional weakening is forecast during the next 48 hours, and Rina could degenerate to a remnant low pressure area over the weekend" as it drifts southward, the NHC said.
The storm had been expected to dump heavy rain in southeastern Mexico where flooding already has left some 200,000 people homeless since last week.
Places like the tourist island of Cozumel were on alert, with mandatory evacuation orders in effect, but by Friday the Mexican government had discontinued its tropical storm warning for the peninsula.
About 2,000 tourists had left the island on Tuesday and Wednesday, and about 850 mostly North American tourists remained.
Cancun's airport -- the country's second largest, after Mexico City's -- stayed open throughout the bad weather, although hundreds of travelers were stranded after it canceled 132 of its 192 scheduled flights on Thursday. Airport authorities said Friday flights were expected to operate normally.
Minor damage was visible, including downed trees, power lines and signs, and police shut down the hotel zone in Cancun, where a boulevard packed with resort facilities traverses 27 kilometers (17 miles) of beachfront.
"At the moment nobody has access to the hotel area and public transport is suspended. We are on alert," Cancun police chief Edgar Amilcar Alonso told AFP.
In Playa del Carmen, travelers seemed unfazed as they ventured outdoors.
"I am not scared of hurricanes. I am calm," Canadian tourist Alan Fontaine said earlier, adding that he planned to take photographs of the storm.
Local public security chief Gerardo Alanilla said 10 shelters already had 1,700 occupants and that more would be opened as needed.
The NHC had warned early this week that Rina could swell into a major category three hurricane, dumping up to 16 inches (40 centimeters) of rain and causing large destructive storm surges.
But the storm petered out quickly, and the NHC slashed its rain forecast down to just two inches and said any storm surge flooding along the coast would subside Friday.
Rina was the sixth hurricane and 17th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30.
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Mexico braces for hit from Rina
Playa Del Carmen, Mexico (AFP) Oct 27, 2011
Mexico's popular Caribbean beaches braced Thursday for a hit from Rina, downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm but still threatening low-lying areas with heavy rain and wind. As the tropical storm spun toward the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, locals scrambled to tape up windows and officials hurriedly opened emergency shelters, with palm trees flailing from Rina's powerful gusts. ... read more
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