SAN FERNANDO, Mexico (AP) – Hurricane Emily swept ashore Wednesday and weakened, but it still threatened to unleash flash floods and landslides in the mountains after pounding the coast with 125 miles per hourwinds and forcing thousands along the Gulf of Mexico to flee.

The eye of the week-old hurricane came ashore before dawn near San Fernando, about 75 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border. Emily’s winds and torrential rains knocked out power, shredded metal roofs and shattered plate-glass windows.

There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries. Thousands of residents and tourists had been ordered to evacuate homes and hotels along the Gulf of Mexico. In southern Texas, about 4,000 people spent the night in 14 shelters.

Even as Emily lost strength as it moved inland, forecasters warned it still had the potential to cause major flooding and landslides, dumping as much as 15 inches of rain as it moves over the mountains of eastern Mexico.

“Emily is stick packing a punch,” the National Hurricane Center said.

Emily’s landfall Wednesday marked the second time in three days the storm hit Mexico. A Category 4 hurricane when it hit the Yucatan Peninsula with 135 miles per hour winds Monday, it was a Category 1 storm Wednesday, with maximum sustained winds near 80 miles per hour. The storm was expected to lose hurricane strength later in the day.

Last weekend, Emily drenched the south coast of Jamaica, killing four people and washing away at least three homes.

Officials in Mexico’s Tamaulipas state, which borders Texas, said 18,000 people had been evacuated Tuesday from 20 seaside communities – including nearly everyone from the beachside community of Carbonera, a fishing hamlet that appeared to have taken a direct hit from the storm. Many small communities apparently were cut off by the storm.

There was no immediate word on damage in Carbonera, where it was considered too unsafe even for emergency officials to remain behind.

Most residents heeded warnings about Emily, remembering the toll of deadly Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. “Because of Gilbert, people did not resist” the evacuation orders, said City Councilor Laurencio Garcia. Witnessing Gilbert, which caused 300 deaths in Mexico and the Caribbean, helped people to prepare for Emily, “first of all because of fear,” Garcia said, adding, “To me, this one was stronger.”

On the Yucatan Peninsula, Emily ripped roofs off resort hotels and stranded thousands of tourists along the popular Mayan Riviera, which includes the resort of Cancun. But by Wednesday, tourists who had decided not to cancel their vacations were returning slowly to the beaches as many hotels announced that they were reopening after suffering only minor damages.

At the Westin Cancun, which was hosting nearly 700 guests when Emily hit, employees handed out “I survived Emily” certificates and had a contest in which guests were asked to write: “If you had to evacuate your room, what would you have taken and why?” Winners were to receive free lodging, dinners and spa treatments.

Residents of poor areas near the resorts in Cancun and Playa del Carmen continued to assess the damage to their flimsy thatched-hut homes.

Also Wednesday, Mexico’s state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Mexico, or Pemex, prepared to return more than 16,000 workers who had been evacuated from offshore oil installations in the northern Gulf. Although the storm halted production temporarily, it didn’t appear to have caused any major damage.



On the Net:

National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov

AP-ES-07-20-05 1818EDT


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