Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Hurricane Dean, Now a Category 5 Storm
Mexico's state oil company, Petroleos de Mexico, said it was evacuating all of its more than 14,000 offshore workers in the southern Gulf of Mexico, which includes the giant Cantarell oil field. Dozens of historically significant Mayan sites also were emptied.
Dean - which has killed at least 12 people across the Caribbean - quickly picked up strength after brushing Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.
By 8:35 p.m. EDT, it had sustained winds of 160 mph and was centered about 210 miles south-southeast of Tulum, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. Category 5 storms - capable of catastrophic damage - are rare with only three have hit the U.S. since record-keeping began.
The eye was expected to make landfall early Tuesday morning near Chetumal, about 80 miles south of Tulum.
Cancun seemed likely to be spared a direct hit, but visitors abandoned its swank hotels to swarm outbound flights. Officials evacuated more rustic lodgings farther south, where Dean - which has killed at least 12 people across the Caribbean - was expected to smash ashore early Tuesday.
Eric Morovich of Orange County, Calif., waited outside Cancun's airport after trying unsuccessfully to book a ferry, rent a boat and charter an airplane. "The next option is swimming, I guess," he joked.
A hurricane warning was in affect from Cancun all the way south through Belize. All hospitals were closed in Belize City, the country's biggest, and authorities urged residents to leave, saying Dean is too strong for their shelters. Meteorologists said a storm surge of 12 to 18 feet was possible at the storm's center.
The storm was expected to slash across the Yucatan and emerge in the Gulf of Campeche, where Petroleos de Mexico decided Monday to shut down production on the offshore rigs that extract most of the nation's oil.
President Felipe Calderon said he would cut short a trip to Canada where he is meeting with President Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"Given (the hurricane's) progression and dangerousness, I have decided to return to Mexico soon," Calderon said in Ottawa. "I'll personally oversee the aid effort in case of a disaster."
Shutting the 407 oil wells in the Campeche Sound will result in a production loss of 2.7 million barrels of oil and 2.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day, Pemex said. Of that, about 1.7 million barrels of oil a day is exported from three Gulf ports, where Pemex was loading the final tankers before shutting them as well.
Central Mexico was next on the storm's path, though the outer bands were likely to bring rain, flooding and gusty winds to south Texas, already saturated after an unusually rainy summer.
At the southern tip of Texas, officials urged residents to evacuate ahead of the storm. "Our mission is very simple. It's to get people out of the kill zone, to get people out of the danger area, which is the coastline of Texas," said Johnny Cavazos, Cameron County's chief emergency director.