Mexico issues 'red alert' as Category 3 Hurricane Beryl hurtles toward coast


By Jose Cortes and Paola Chiomante

TULUM/CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) – Mexico’s top tourist destinations were on red alert as Hurricane Beryl strengthened to a Category 3 storm on Thursday evening after leaving behind a deadly trail of destruction across several Caribbean islands.

Beryl was packing winds up to 115 mph (185 kph) as it beared down on the Yucatan peninsula’s eastern coast early Friday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC), which warned of a dangerous storm surge and damaging waves.

Mexico’s civil protection agency issued a “red alert” and asked people to stay in their homes or at storm shelters as it neared popular coastal tourist spots like Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, Tulum and Puerto Morelos.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador urged people in the storm’s path to take shelter after the meteorological service forecast heavy to torrential rains that could trigger landslides and flooding.

“No hesitating. Material things can be recovered. The most important thing is life,” the president wrote on social media.

The storm churned past the Cayman Islands earlier on Thursday after belting Jamaica with winds that tore apart buildings and uprooted trees.

Authorities say at least 11 people have so far died from the storm across Jamaica, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and in northern Venezuela. The toll could rise as communications are restored and more reports come in from islands devastated by flooding and powerful winds.

The entire state of Quintana Roo, home to Mexico’s top tourist destination Cancun, was bracing for the storm, Governor Mara Lezama said in a video posted on X.

“Let’s take all measures of prevention and care because the winds and rains will be felt throughout the state. At this time no one should be away from home,” Lezama said.

At Cancun international airport, at least 100 flights were canceled on Thursday as tourists scrambled to catch the last ones out.

Stragglers perused the beach in Cancun on Thursday evening as winds began picking up. In nearby Playa del Carmen, police blocked off beach entrances with yellow caution tape to dissuade visitors ahead of Beryl’s arrival.

The unusually fierce, early season hurricane was about 90 miles (145 km) east-southeast of the Mexican beach resort of Tulum, according to the NHC.

Earlier on Thursday, officials in the Cayman Islands issued the all clear after the storm spared them the worst.

Beryl had weakened on Thursday after skirting Jamaica’s southern coast late on Wednesday as a powerful Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

“We’re happy to be alive, happy that the damage was not more extensive,” said Joseph Patterson, a bee keeper in the southwestern Jamaican town of Bogue. He described felled power lines, roads blocked with debris and “tremendous damage” to farms.

There were two deaths in Jamaica related to the storm, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said in an interview on CBC on Thursday.

Some 70% of the National Water Commission’s 400,000 customers were without water, a company representative said.

Still, most Jamaicans were “giving thanks,” Holness said, after having “escaped the worst”.

Beryl was forecast to dump 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) of rain on Mexico’s Yucatan through Friday, with as much as 10 inches in some places, the NHC said.

The hurricane center expects the storm to weaken rapidly as it crosses the peninsula early Friday, but is seen getting stronger again when Beryl moves over the Gulf of Mexico.

The storm is expected to move toward northeastern Mexico and southern Texas late in the weekend, the NHC said.

TOURISTS BEWARE

On Thursday, around 3,000 tourists were evacuated from island getaway Isla Mujeres back to the mainland near Cancun, the island’s tourism director Jose Magana said.

Fisherman Jose Martin was one of several who docked his boat in Cancun ahead of Beryl’s arrival.

“It affects us a good deal because, first, we can’t work, and second, we need to find shelter, so it’s not good,” Martin said.

Schools in the state of Quintana Roo were closed Thursday and Friday. Mexico’s defense ministry opened around 120 storm shelters in the area.

Residents in Tulum lined up at gas stations to fill their tanks and additional containers, while hotels and tourist complexes removed loose furniture and equipment.

Beryl is the 2024 Atlantic season’s first hurricane and at its peak was the earliest Category 5 storm on record.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted an “extraordinary” storm season this year. Scientists say human-caused climate change is fueling extreme weather.

Mexico’s major oil platforms, most of which are clustered around the southern Gulf of Mexico’s shallow waters, are not expected to be shut down or otherwise affected.

Offshore oil projects to the north, in U.S. territorial waters, could be hit, according to the hurricane’s expected trajectory.

(Reporting by Zahra Burton in Kingston, José de Jesús Cortes and Raquel Cunha in Tulum, and Paola Chiomante in Cancun; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Boyle in Mexico City, Robertson Henry in St. Vincent and Natalia Siniawski in Gdansk; Writing by Cassandra Garrison and David Alire Garcia; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Kim Coghill and Stephen Coates)



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