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Ernesto drenches Yucatan

Ernesto expected to go over Bay of Campeche

CHETUMAL, Mexico | August 8, 2012

Ernesto weakened to a tropical storm Wednesday as it doused Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula with torrential rain, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

Formerly a category 1 hurricane, Ernesto packed 50 mph winds and heavy rains at 11 a.m., prompting Mexican officials to issue a hurricane watch along the Gulf of Mexico from Barra de Nautla to Coatzacoalcos.

Ernesto was about 265 miles east of Coatzacoalcos, moving west at 15 mph, the center said.

After moving across the southern portion of the Yucatan Peninsula, the center of Ernesto was expected to emerge over the Bay of Campeche Wednesday night, forecasters said.

On its forecast track, Ernesto was expected to approach the Mexican coast Thursday, the center said.

Ernesto weakened as it moved across land but could regain hurricane strength before its second landfall, the hurricane center said.

Tourist and commercial activities ground to a halt Tuesday across Quintana Roo state and more than 2,000 people were evacuated, El Universal reported. Dozens of tourists were evacuated from Mahahual and bused to Chetumal, Informador.com reported.

The airport in Chetumal suspended operations and several main roads were closed, officials said.

The Mexican army made preparations to assist in areas under weather watches and warnings and temporary shelters were being built, El Universal said.

Hotel owners reported a drop in occupancy rates as many visitors left popular destinations because of Ernesto, Informador.com said.

Cruise ships traveling to the island of Cozumel and the port of Mahahual were diverted by shipping authorities to Veracruz, officials said.

Rainfall associated with the storm was to range from just a few inches to up to a foot in some areas of Belize, the Yucatan Peninsula and northern Guatemala.

Flash floods, mudslides and dangerous storm surges are possible throughout the region, forecasters said.

2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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