WEATHER

Hurricane Ernesto update: Ernesto hits Mexico with 85 mph winds

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CHETUMAL, Mexico (AP) - Tropical Storm Ernesto spun into Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula Wednesday as hundreds of fishermen fled low-lying villages and thousands of tourists evacuated resorts of Tulum and the Costa Maya.

Ernesto hit the peninsula as a hurricane with sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph) when it swept over the cruise ship port of Mahahual shortly before midnight Tuesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

It had weakened to a tropical storm while moving over land Wednesday, with winds near 60 mph (95 kph), but it was expected to regain hurricane strength after emerging over the southern Gulf of Mexico on course for a collision with the coast near the city of Veracruz.

The storm was moving west at 15 mph (24 kph).

There were no early reports of damage, but officials said it may take time to assess whether Ernesto's rain and wind caused problems.

Chetumal, the capital of Quintana Roo state, was the closest sizable city and officials moved more than 1,300 tourists there from resorts in Mahahual, Bacalar and other spots that were expected to see heavier rain and wind.

In the city of Tulum to the north, some 6,000 tourists sheltered in hotels away from the beach.

Luana Antonicelli, a 23-year-old tourist from Melbourne, Australia, said she and her 20-year-old brother left their beachfront cabana surrounded by tropical jungle and decided to spend the night at the Hotel Tulum, a 20-room, one-story building about two miles (three kilometers) inland.

"The people at our hotel told us to come into town because it's too dangerous to stay there," Antonicelli said.

She said most people at the Hotel Tulum were hunkering down inside their rooms even though it was only raining lightly Tuesday night. Hotel workers were distributing candles but the hotel still had electricity.

"It's a bit annoying because I want to be on the beach, but these things happen," Antonicelli said, adding that she and her brother decided to stay outdoors as much as possible. "I see it as an adventure."

Authorities also prepared two kindergartens in Tulum as shelters, and tourist guide Cruz Garcia came to one from Punta Allen, a low-lying coastal settlement.

"To be over there is a risk because the tide rises and there could be a disaster," Garcia said, adding that he twice went through strong hurricanes while living in the neighboring state of Campeche.

Soldiers and police evacuated all residents of Punta Allen and other low-lying coastal settlements, said Luis Gamboa of Quintana Roo's Civil Protection office.

Two cruises ships scheduled to dock on the Riviera Maya put off their arrival.

The storm struck south of the big resort areas of Cancun and the Riviera Maya, but officials prepared shelters there as a precaution.

Forecasters said Ernesto was expected to cross Yucatan by Wednesday evening and enter the southern Gulf of Mexico in an area dotted with offshore oil platforms owned by the state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos.

On its way to Yucatan, the storm swirled over open sea parallel to Honduras' northern coast, but officials there said the storm hadn't caused damage or injuries.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Gilma neared hurricane strength in the Pacific Ocean about 645 miles (1,040 kilometers) southwest of the southern tip of Mexico's Baja California, with winds near 70 mph (110 kph). The storm was not expected to threaten land.

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