Hurricane Delta weakens to Cat. 1; expected to regain strength as it moves toward Louisiana coast

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Thursday, October 8, 2020
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Hurricane Delta has weakened to a Cat. 1 storm after raking across the coast of northeastern Mexico on Wednesday; the storm is expected to regain its strength to a Cat. 2 storm as it approaches the Louisiana coast.

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Hurricane Delta is out over the Gulf of Mexico after blowing over Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, toppling trees and knocking out power in some of the area's resorts.

Delta hit Mexico as a Category 2 hurricane just south of Cancun early Wednesday with high winds and heavy rain, cutting power to about 266,000 customers and forcing tourists into storm shelters. No deaths or injuries were reported.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Delta weakened to a Category 1 storm Wednesday afternoon, but it has begun strengthening again while moving over the southern Gulf, rising to maximum sustained winds of 90 mph It is expected to gain even more strength before reaching the U.S. Gulf coast Friday.

Delta could make landfall, possibly as a Category 3 storm, sometime Friday south of Morgan City, La., the forecast said. On Wednesday evening, the storm was centered about 550 miles (890 kilometers) south-southeast of Cameron, La., and heading northwest at 17 mph (28 kph).

The hurricane came ashore in Mexico around 5:30 a.m. Wednesday with top winds of 110 mph (175 kph). Officials said it caused no deaths or injuries, but did force hundreds of tourists to take refuge in storm shelters. It knocked out power to about 266,000 customers, or about one-third of the total on the Yucatan peninsula.

WATCH: Hurricane Delta forecast

There were no reports of any deaths or injuries, said Carlos Joaquín González, the governor of the state of Quintana Roo.

"Fortunately, the most dangerous part of the hurricane has passed," Joaquín González said, noting the big problem was downed trees that had knocked out power lines and blocked roadways.

Civil defense official Luís Alberto Ortega Vázquez said that as the storm approached about 39,000 people were evacuated in the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan. He said about 2,700 people took refuge in storm shelters in the two states.

Joaquín González said Wednesday that most of the tourists had returned to their hotels but a shelter had been opened to accommodate people stranded in Cancun by the cancellation of 157 airline flights. He said the international airport would resume its normal operations Thursday.

There were reports of some flooding in Cozumel and Playa del Carmen. Overnight emergency calls came in from people whose windows or doors were broken and they were taken to shelters, the governor said.

More than a thousand trees were knocked down by strong winds, but authorities expressed confidence that electricity would be restored to 80% of those affected Wednesday night.

Early Wednesday, guests of the Fiesta Americana Condesa hotel awoke in the sweltering classrooms of the Technological Institute of Cancun campus where they had been moved Tuesday.

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All of the windows at the campus had been covered with plywood so they couldn't see what was happening, but they said the howling winds started around 2 a.m. and there had been heavy rain. The power - and with it the air conditioning - had been knocked out early Wednesday so it was steamy as tourists used their cell phone light to get up and make their way for a first cup of coffee.

By early afternoon they were returned to their hotel and the state announced that businesses could reopen at 3 p.m. and the ban on alcohol sales was lifted.

"The hard part has been the waiting," said Ana Karen Rodríguez of Monterrey. She and a friend arrived in Cancun Tuesday morning and by afternoon were shuttled to the shelter. She said the hotel had planned well. "It's been good. I feel comfortable actually."

Throughout the day Tuesday, the situation had appeared grave for this stretch of the Mexican coast.

Delta had increased in strength by 80 mph in just 24 hours, and its top winds peaked at 145 mph (230 kph) before it weakened as it neared the shore.

Thousands of Quintana Roo residents and tourists hunkered down in government shelters. Everyone had been ordered off the streets by 7 p.m.

The evacuations of low lying areas, islands and the coastline expanded as Delta exploded over the warm Caribbean waters offshore. Much of Cancun's hotel zone was cleared out as guests were bused to inland shelters. In Cancun alone, the government opened 160 shelters.

State tourism officials said more than 40,000 tourists were in Quintana Roo, a fraction of what would normally be there. Delta's damage comes on top of months of pandemic-induced lockdown that has devastated the state's tourism industry.

People in Louisiana or Mississippi should prepare now for hurricane-force winds to begin hitting their coastlines on Friday, the hurricane center advised.

Delta would be the first-ever hurricane named after a Greek letter to strike the U.S. mainland. The cone of uncertainty puts Delta making landfall somewhere in Louisiana.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.