Hurricane Delta lashes Mexico's Caribbean coast

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Hurricane Delta tore across Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula Wednesday, toppling trees, ripping down power lines and lashing a string of major beach resorts with winds of up to 110 miles (175 kilometers) per hour.

A weakened Delta hit the country's Caribbean coast near the town of Puerto Morelos as a Category 2 storm, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said, bringing a "life-threatening storm surge."

There were widespread power outages, but the region appeared to have escaped major destruction and there were no immediate reports of deaths, according to Mexico's civil defense department.

Strong winds whipped Cancun, one of the country's most popular tourist destinations, where cars were hit by falling trees, street signs were blown over and stores were damaged, according to AFP reporters.

Thousands of tourists had hunkered down in emergency shelters along the Riviera Maya coastline as the storm approached, but were seen emerging into the streets again after the wind and rain subsided.

Delta was downgraded from "extremely dangerous" Category 4 as it neared the peninsula, but is expected to become a major hurricane again as it moves over the Gulf of Mexico, the Miami-based NHC said.

A Hurricane Watch has been issued for the northern Gulf coast of the United States from High Island, Texas to Grand Isle, Louisiana, it said.

- Soldiers deployed -

Quintana Roo governor Carlos Joaquin said that many trees had been toppled and electricity lines were torn down in his state, which is home to Cancun.

Around half of the city was without power, much less than expected, he said.

At least 6,500 soldiers were deployed across the region to help affected communities, the authorities said.

More than 40,000 tourists in Cancun and neighboring resorts were evacuated as the hurricane approached, the head of the area's hotel association, Roberto Citron, told AFP.

Most were Mexicans, but they also included foreigners, notably from the United States.

In Cancun alone, more than 160 shelters were set up.

The authorities said the emergency shelters had been sanitized to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 81,000 people in Mexico and led to a sharp drop in visitor numbers.

"To prevent the spread of Covid-19, the same measures have been taken in the shelters as in hotels, such as the use of gel and face masks," said Cintron.

As the storm neared, Maria Alexandra Gonzalez, a 34-year-old tourist from Costa Rica, boarded a bus with a large suitcase and a hat that she never used due to the relentless rain.

"We've not had much sun. It's a pity. We haven't been able to go out to see other places," she said.

- Airports closed -

The Cancun and Cozumel airports were closed, and non-essential activities in the state of Quintana Roo were suspended.

People living in the area stocked up on food, drinking water and wooden boards to protect their homes as the storm approached.

Fishermen hauled their boats ashore to prevent them being swept away.

Delta is the 26th named storm of an unusually active Atlantic hurricane season.

In September, meteorologists were forced to break out the Greek alphabet to name Atlantic storms for only the second time ever, after the 2020 hurricane season blew through their usual list, ending on Tropical Storm Wilfred.

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