Hurricane Rina nears Mexico's beach resorts

CANCUN, Mexico Wed Oct 26, 2011 10:12am BST

A tourist walks while palm trees sway with the wind caused by the nearness of the Rina hurricane off the coast of Quintana Roo in Cancun's hotel zone October 25, 2011. REUETERS/Victor Ruiz Garcia

A tourist walks while palm trees sway with the wind caused by the nearness of the Rina hurricane off the coast of Quintana Roo in Cancun's hotel zone October 25, 2011. REUETERS/Victor Ruiz Garcia

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CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) - Hurricane Rina headed for Mexico's Yucatan peninsula on Wednesday with winds just shy of major hurricane strength, threatening beach resorts but steering clear of oil platforms.

"Rina has the potential to become a major hurricane today or tonight," the U.S. National Hurricane Centre said.

Rina is a Category Two hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson intensity scale, packing winds of 110 mph (175 kph). When sustained winds hit 111 miles per hour (179 kph) storms are considered major Category Three hurricanes.

The sixth hurricane in the Atlantic season this year, Rina was located 215 miles (345 km) east southeast of Chetumal, Mexico, and 235 miles (380 km) south southeast of Cozumel early on Wednesday, and was moving west at 5 mph (7 km/h).

The storm was expected to be near or over the east coast of the Yucatan peninsula late Wednesday and on Thursday.

ernor of Quintana Roo ordered hundreds of people evacuate the fishing village of Punta Allen on the Yucatan peninsula's western coast on Tuesday night.

Sporadic rains showered the tourist hub of Cancun, which was devastated by the massive Hurricane Wilma in 2005, the most intense storm ever recorded in the Atlantic.

DOLPHINS MOVED INLAND

On Tuesday, authorities in the city of Cancun were preparing 50 shelters ahead of Rina, while worried residents stocked up on gas and cleared out store shelves of emergency supplies like water and canned tuna in case businesses decide to shut down.

On Tuesday there were around 80,000 tourists in the state of Quintana Roo, mostly foreigners at big hotels in Cancun.

Companies that run marine parks around Cancun moved more than two dozen dolphins, some of them pregnant, housed in areas in the hurricane's path to safer sites further inland.

The hurricane could dump 8 to 16 inches (20 to 40 cm) of rain over the eastern Yucatan peninsula from Wednesday morning. "Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion," the hurricane Centre said.

A huge storm surge is also possible, raising tide level as much as 7 feet (2.1 meters) above normal along the coast.

The storm could slam into other tourist hubs like Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel, popular with scuba divers and cruise ships, and will also graze the small Central American nation of Belize.

Belize issued a tropical storm watch along its coastline north of Belize City.

Carnival reportedly revised eight cruise itineraries to avoid the hurricane and Norwegian Cruise Line put out an alert on its website saying it was closely monitoring Rina's path.

All the ports in the Gulf of Mexico remained open on Tuesday. Most of Mexico's major oil installations are further east in the Gulf of Mexico, far from the hurricane's path.

Downpours that started on October 12 over Central America have affected more than 1 million people and destroyed crops in the region, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

El Salvador and the United Nations launched an appeal for $15.7 million (9.8 million pound) to help 300,000 people affected by the floods.

In Guatemala, the situation was similarly grave, with a half million people hit by flooding and 50 percent of the country's roads blocked by landslides or overflowing rivers.

(Writing by Mica Rosenberg in Mexico City; Editing by Jackie Frank)

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