Category 4 Emily hits Yucatan

A dangerous Hurricane Emily was making landfall on the shores of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula early today with 135 mph winds, and forecasters predict it will cross into the Gulf of Mexico later in the day.

At 2 a.m. EDT, Emily was 25 miles west-southwest of Cozumel, Mexico, and was about 170 miles east-southeast of Progreso, Mexico. It was moving west-northwest at 18 mph, the National Hurricane Center in Miami reported.

Though top winds had diminished slightly from a high of 150 mph on Sunday, Emily remained a Category 4 hurricane capable of causing extensive structural damage and coastal flooding with storm surges of up to 18 feet.

“We’re getting the strongest part of it right now,” said Hermann Elger, the manager of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Cancun, early Monday.

“A lot is blowing around. There’s a lot of water moving around,” according to Elger. “No one is daring venture outside at this point.”

Elger said the resort community was well prepared for Emily, with four or five days’ advance notice of the hurricane’s approach.

Cancun closed its airport Sunday, and Mexico’s state oil company evacuated drill rigs offshore as the storm approached land.

Emily was expected to cross the Yucatan into the Gulf of Mexico sometime Monday, probably resulting in hurricane watches for Mexico’s northeast coast and portions of the southern coast of Texas, forecasters said.

Once it enters the Gulf of Mexico, the hurricane’s potential landfall path stretches hundreds of miles from Matagorda Bay in Texas south to near Veracruz, Mexico.

Early Monday, hurricane-force winds extended more than 60 miles from the storm’s eye, and areas 150 miles from the eye could experience tropical storm-force winds, forecasters predicted.

Storm surges and battering waves up to 12 feet above normal tides were likely near the center and to the north of where the storm made landfall, and parts of the Yucatan Peninsula are likely to be drenched with 5 to 8 inches of rain. Some parts of the region could see up to a foot of rainfall, forecasters said.

Hurricane warnings were posted from the beach towns of Cabo Catoche to Campeche, including the resorts of Cancun, Cozumel and Isla Mujeres. Tropical storm warnings were posted for the northern coast of Belize as well.

Mexican authorities asked an estimated 130,000 tourists in Cancun and the surrounding beaches to evacuate.

The Yucatan tourist hotspot closed its airport at 3 p.m. (4 p.m. ET) as the storm approached, airport officials said.

The state oil company Pemex also began evacuating workers from oil rigs off the Mexican coast, a spokeswoman told CNN.

Emily swept south of Jamaica on Saturday morning, causing rain bands to spread over the region and dealing a second blow to an island cleaning up after last week’s Hurricane Dennis.

The storm brought torrential rains and high winds, causing flooding and prompting evacuations in some areas, journalist Fitzroy Prendergast told CNN.

Landslides were also reported on Jamaica’s eastern end — the area damaged earlier by Dennis — and some communities there were cut off from the rest of the island, Prendergast said.

The hurricane is the latest storm in what has so far been an active 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, with five tropical systems developing in the first six weeks.

All five systems have reached at least tropical storm strength, two became Category 4 hurricanes and Dennis — which packed 150 mph winds at one point — was the earliest Category 4 hurricane ever recorded in the Caribbean basin. The storm caused extensive damage in Cuba and the northern U.S. Gulf Coast, killing more than three dozen

Source: CNN