Tropical Storm Claudette makes for Mexico's Yucatan
CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexican authorities in the popular Caribbean resort of Cancun cleared tourists out of bars and discos early on Friday as Tropical Storm Claudette prepared to batter the Yucatan peninsula.
Sheets of rain slammed against the windows, palm fronds lay strewn across the roads, trees swayed violently in the screaming wind and power connections flickered.
Disappointed tourists spilled out of clubs in the flashy hotel zone, heading for supermarkets to stock up on liquor as police in Cancun went from bar to bar to enforce a midnight (0500 GMT) closure ordered by the city's mayor.
Police patrol cars drove up and down exhorting tourists through megaphones to return to their hotels. Within half an hour the pumping resort was deserted as the weather began to deteriorate.
Some people began to get nervous as shop-owners battened down hatches and taped up windows.
"We just came here to have a good time but we don't want to get hurt," said Jeremy McCord, manager of a Staples office supply store from Dallas as he and his wife left a bar. They arrived in Cancun on Thursday but said they might head home.
Mexico's government late on Thursday downgraded a hurricane warning to a tropical storm warning in the coastal area around Cancun.
Claudette was 20 miles east-southeast of the island of Cozumel, just off the Yucatan coastline and moving toward the peninsula at close to 16 mph (26 kph).
The Miami-based U.S. National Hurricane Center said Claudette, packing sustained winds of 55 mph (88 kph), was not likely to change strength significantly as its center moved over the peninsula.
"We didn't know it would be as bad as this," said Tom Chapman, a builder from Hereford, England as he tried to stand up in the gusting wind. He and his wife Jessica canceled plans to party in favor of returning to their hotel early.
Authorities said there was no plan yet to evacuate Cancun's hotels, but bus and taxi drivers had been placed on standby.
"The most likely scenario is that there is copious rain from midnight" and that is likely to last for the next 24 hours, Cancun Mayor Juan Ignacio Garcia told local radio. "We recommend people in Cancun stay at home."
Tides three to five feet above normal and "large and dangerous battering waves" were possible in the hurricane warning zone covering parts of the Yucatan's northern and eastern coasts, the hurricane center said.
A tropical storm warning for the Belize coast and the Cayman islands was lifted.
Garcia advised people worried about their safety at home to go to shelters that had been set up in schools.
Airport authorities said they hoped to keep the airport open but that all lighter craft had been grounded.
Television reports said dozens of people had been evacuated from fishing villages along the Yucatan coast.
Mexico's four crude oil export ports, three in the Gulf of Mexico and one on the Pacific coast, remained open to shipping on Thursday, according to the government.
Claudette ruffled Jamaica and the Cayman Islands with gusty showers and heavy surf as it skirted past their southern coasts over the last two days.
Claudette is the third tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.