Hurricane Dean took aim at the Mexican mainland yesterday as the weakened storm battered evacuated oil rigs on the roiling waters of the Bay of Campeche in the heart of Mexico's energy industry.
Dean swept across the Yucatan Peninsula on Tuesday after making landfall as a ferocious Category 5 hurricane, toppling trees, power lines and houses -- but sparing resorts on the Mayan Riviera.
Greatly weakened from that overland journey, Dean moved over the Bay of Campeche, home to more than 100 oil platforms, three major oil exporting ports and the Cantarell oil field, Mexico's most productive. The entire field's operations were shut down just ahead of the storm.
The sprawling, westward storm was projected to slam into the mainland yesterday afternoon near Laguna Verde, Mexico's sole nuclear power plant, which is suspending production.
At 1am, Dean was a Category 1 hurricane with winds of 130 kph and was centered about 250km east-northeast of Veracruz, the US National Hurricane Center said. It was moving west-northwest at about 31kph.
Torrential rains, battering waves and a storm surge of 1.8m to 2.4m above normal were forecast, with some intensification possible before landfall.
"We often see that when a storm weakens, people let down their guard completely. You shouldn't do that," Jamie Rhome at the hurricane center said. "This storm probably won't become a Category 5 again, but it will still be powerful."
The last tourists departed on Tuesday from the beaches of Tecolutla, a getaway on the western Gulf of Mexico where the storm is forecast to hit.
Zbigniew Szadkowski, 50, a physics professor from Lodz, Poland, said he wanted to see a hurricane in action but was leaving with wife Anna, 51.
"I wanted to stay but my wife said no," he said.
Residents boarded up doors and windows on hotels facing the beach, and authorities issued stern warnings for the low-lying coast.
There were about 100 soldiers in the town who authorities said would be used for security or evacuation if needed. Javier Sanchez, the head of civil protection in Tecolutla, said residents were being encouraged to leave and a forced evacuation was not being ruled out.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon said no deaths were immediately reported in Mexico, after Dean killed 13 people as it crossed the Caribbean and plowed into the Yucatan on Tuesday.
But driving rain, poor communications and impassable roads made it difficult to determine how isolated Mayan communities fared in the sparsely populated jungle of the Yucatan.
When it struck there, Dean was the third most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in recorded history.
Hundreds of homes in the town of Majahual collapsed as Dean crumpled steel girders, splintered wooden structures and washed away about half of the huge concrete dock that transformed the sleepy fishing village into the nation's second-busiest cruise ship destination.
The storm surge covered almost the entire town in waist-deep sea water like a giant mirror, said fishermen Jorge Gonzalez, 29.
"There came a moment when I thought this was the end," Gonzalez said.