Hurricane Dean hits Mexico’s oil coast, batters peninsula



By Richard Jacobsen

TECOLUTLA, Mexico – A sprawling Hurricane Dean slammed into Mexico for the second time in as many days Wednesday and quickly stretched across to the Pacific Ocean, then weakened as it drenched the central mountains with rain that flooded houses along the coast.

Coming ashore with top sustained winds of 100 mph, Dean’s center hit the tourism and fishing town of Tecolutla shortly after civil defense workers loaded the last evacuees onto army trucks and headed to inland shelters.

There was no escaping the wide storm’s hurricane-force winds, which lashed at a 60-mile stretch of the coast in Veracruz state.

“You can practically feel the winds, they’re so strong,” Maria del Pilar Garcia said by telephone from inside the hotel she manages in Tuxpan, a town some 40 miles north of where Dean made landfall. “I hope this passes quickly and the rivers don’t overflow.”

At 5 p.m. EDT, Dean was 40 miles west of the inland city of Poza Rica, heading westward at 17 mph.

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    Mexico had suspended offshore oil production and shut down its only nuclear power plant as tens of thousands headed for higher ground. The state oil company said there was no known damage to any of its production facilities on shore or in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Dean struck land Wednesday as a Category 2 storm after regaining some of the force it unleashed on the Yucatan. Its first strike on the peninsula Tuesday as a Category 5 tempest with 165 mph winds was the third most intense Atlantic hurricane ever to make landfall.

    Officials said there were no reports of deaths in Mexico directly caused by Dean, which killed 20 people in its earlier sweep through the Caribbean. The toll rose Wednesday when Haitian officials said seven more storm deaths had been reported in remote areas.

    Dean’s sustained winds dropped to 85 mph, Category 1, shortly after making landfall in late morning, and it was downgraded to a tropical storm by afternoon with winds of near 70 mph.

    Although Dean swept over Yucatan as a rare Category 5 hurricane, which is capable of causing catastrophic damage, the storm’s top winds were relatively narrow and appeared to hit just one town: the cruise ship port of Majahual.

    The few people who had not evacuated Majahual narrowly escaped with their lives. Dean demolished hundreds of houses, crumpled steel girders, and splintered wooden structures.

    The storm surge covered almost the entire town in waist-deep sea water, said fisherman Jorge Gonzalez.

    Greatly weakened from its trip across the peninsula, Dean moved across the southern Gulf of Mexico, home to 100 oil platforms, three major oil-exporting ports and the Cantarell oil field, Mexico’s most productive.

    The last tourists left Tuesday from the beaches of the Emerald Coast, a getaway area where the storm brought battering waves and an expected storm surge of up to eight feet above normal.

    Associated Press writers Julie Watson and Paul Kiernan in Mexico City, Mark Stevenson in Majahual and John Pain in Miami contributed to this report.