Officials expect Hurricane Dean to intensify near Mexico’s nuclear power plant

A woman covers herself with a plastic poncho while walking in heavy rains in Sabancuy, Mexico in the Yucatan peninsula on Tuesday, as Hurricane Dean passes. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, GREGORY BULL

AP

A woman covers herself with a plastic poncho while walking in heavy rains in Sabancuy, Mexico in the Yucatan peninsula on Tuesday, as Hurricane Dean passes. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, GREGORY BULL

By Mark Stevenson

FELIPE CARRILLO PUERTO, Mexico – Hurricane Dean swept across the Yucatan peninsula Tuesday, toppling trees, power lines and houses as it bore down on the heart of Mexico’s oil industry. Glitzy resorts on the Mayan Riviera were spared, but vulnerable Mayan villages were exposed to the full fury of one of history’s most intense storms.

President Felipe Calderon said no deaths were immediately reported in Mexico, after Dean killed 13 people in the Caribbean. But driving rain, poor communications and impassable roads made it difficult to determine how isolated Mayan communities fared in the sparsely populated jungle where Dean made landfall as a ferocious Category 5 hurricane.

Dean weakened over land but was expected to strengthen as its eye moved over the Bay of Campeche, home to more than 100 oil platforms and three major oil exporting ports. The sprawling, westward storm was projected to slam into the mainland Wednesday afternoon with renewed force near Laguna Verde, Mexico’s only nuclear power plant.

“We often see that when a storm weakens, people let down their guard completely. You shouldn’t do that,” said Jamie Rhome at the U.S. National Hurricane Center. “This storm probably won’t become a Category 5 again, but it will still be powerful.”

At 5 p.m. EDT, Dean had winds of 80 mph and was centered about 60 miles west-southwest of Campeche. The storm was moving west at 20 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.