CANCUN, Mexico – Hurricane Paula headed for a near pass along the southern coast of Mexico’s resort-dotted Yucatan Peninsula on Wednesday, and then was expected to move toward the western end of Cuba.
The Category 2 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph (160 kph), was expected to swipe at the islands of Cozumel, Isla Mujeres and Holbox, authorities said.
Moving north at near 9 mph (15 kph), Paula’s center was expected to pass just to the east of Cancun on Wednesday morning, and decrease in forward speed after as it turns to the northeast in the afternoon, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
It said the hurricane could get close to western Cuba by Wednesday night or early Thursday.
Authorities of the Caribbean state of Quintana Roo, where Cancun is located, ordered the evacuation of 1,500 residents of Isla Holbox and 60 fishermen from Isla Contoy. The evacuees were taken to the town of Kantunilkin on the mainland.
“Although it is forecast that Hurricane Paula … will not directly impact anywhere on the Yucatan Peninsula, residents should exercise extreme caution,” said Felipe Adrian Vazquez, general coordinator of Mexico’s Weather Service.
More than 1,800 tourists remained on Cozumel after authorities suspended all sea transportation. City officials said three shelters were available on the island but that only a family of six had arrived at one of them late Tuesday.
Quintana Roo state prosecutors said in a statement that a U.S. man drowned when he went swimming in heavy surf near his hotel. Mickey Goodwin, a 54-year-old Texas resident, ignored warnings and red flags alerting the dangerous waters, the statement said.
In Cancun, 15 flights were canceled Tuesday and seven international flights for Wednesday would be canceled, Cancun airport commander Jose Chavez said.
Dozens of boat owners in Cancun hauled yachts and other vessels to shore, while sea tour operators canceled reservations. At least one company, Transbordadores del Caribe, canceled ferry trips from Playa del Carmen to the resort island of Cozumel south of Cancun, though others were still operating while the weather remained mild.
Armando Galmiche closed down his water-skiing tour business in Cancun and canceled 15 reservations he had for Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s already low season for tourism and, with this hurricane, things are going to get worse,” he said, lamenting the loss of revenue.
Along Cancun’s popular strip of night clubs and discotheques, workers took down billboards and other large objects ahead of heavy winds.
Peter Bruin, a 25-year-old tourist from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, was taking a stroll along the city’s hotel zone, unaware that a hurricane was heading to Cancun.
“I hadn’t heard anything but I’m not afraid,” Bruin said. “It will be my first hurricane experience.”
Early Tuesday, heavy rains and high winds destroyed 19 homes in northeastern Honduras, said Lisandro Rosales, head of Honduras’ emergency agency. Officials closed schools along the country’s Atlantic coast and some airports were reported closed.
Early Wednesday, the hurricane was centered about 55 miles (89 kilometers) east of Cozumel, and about 120 miles (193 kilometers) south-southwest of the western tip of Cuba .
Paula was expected to dump from 3 to 6 inches (8 to 15 centimeters) of rain on Honduras, northern Belize, eastern portions of the Yucatan Peninsula and parts of western and central Cuba.
The government of Mexico issued a hurricane warning for the country’s Caribbean coast from Punta Allen north to Cabo Catoche, including the island of Cozumel.
A hurricane warning also was in effect for Cuba’s westernmost province of Pinar del Rio.
Forecasters warned of possible flooding and landslides and suggested residents avoid fishing trips or water sports.