Hurricane Dean Strikes Mexico, Again

By: Nikki Boyd
By: Nikki Boyd

(CBS/AP) Hurricane Dean hit the Mexican mainland Wednesday, battering evacuated oil platforms in the Bay of Campeche and regaining some of the force it unleashed on the Yucatan Peninsula, before making landfall near the town of Tecolutla. The storm, which was measured as a Category 2 late Wednesday morning, weakened to Category 1 after making landfall.

Civil defense workers in yellow raincoats had already joined troops in rousting Tecolutla's residents and loading them aboard army trucks during a heavy rain for a trip to inland shelters.

Magdalena Gonzalez, 55, clutched her belongings in a black plastic bag as she waited in Tecolutla for a ride out, torn between fear of the storm and concern for what she was leaving behind.

"I'm afraid it's going to take my house," she said.

At least 10,000 others were evacuated from Tuxpan, a few miles up the coast from Dean's most destructive winds, said Veracruz Gov. Fidel Herrera.

The biggest threat to life now may be mudslides in the mountains of Veracruz state. Already, Dean has brought heavy rains to much of central Mexico. Some recalled a storm in 1999 that caused extensive flooding and landslides throughout the region, killing hundreds of people.

"We don't want the same thing (to) happen again and we said, 'Let's get out of here,' " Jesus Vargas, a worker at a tire repair shop, said in Poza Rica, 30 miles inland from Tecolutla. Poza Rica became the area's command center, with shelters for thousands.

Dean swept across the Yucatan on Tuesday after making landfall as a ferocious Category 5 hurricane, toppling trees, power lines and houses — but sparing glitzy resorts on the Mayan Riviera.

Miraculously, officials said there were still no reports in Mexico of deaths directly caused by Dean.

Greatly weakened from that overland journey, Dean moved across the Bay of Campeche in the southern Gulf of Mexico, home to more than 100 oil platforms, three major oil exporting ports and the Cantarell oil field, Mexico's most productive.

In the past few days, more than 14,000 workers have been evacuated from the platforms, reports CBS News correspondent Bianca Solorzano.

The entire field's operations were shut down just ahead of the storm, reducing daily production by 2.7 million barrels of oil and 2.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

At 12:50 p.m. EDT, the U.S. National Hurricane Center reported Dean was a Category 2 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 100 mph and was centered about 40 miles east-southeast of Tuxpan.

Torrential rains, battering waves and a storm surge of 6 to 8 feet above normal were forecast.

The last tourists departed 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 anyway 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. "Now is not the time to be enjoying Tecolutla's beaches," town councilor Ricardo Pardinas said.

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. Schools were ordered closed across the Gulf coast state of Veracruz.

President Felipe Calderon said no deaths were immediately reported in Mexico after Dean crossed the Caribbean and plowed into the Yucatan Peninsula on Tuesday. Dean was the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in recorded history.

With all its strength, Dean's path was fortunate, says Solorzano. The storm crossed one of the most sparsely populated areas of the coastline. Dean dumped huge amounts of rain, knocked out power and brought flooding. But for major tourist resorts, Dean was just a windy rainstorm.

"It wasn't minutes of terror. It was hours. I wish I was exaggerating, but I'm not," said Catharine Morales, 30, a native of Montreal, Canada, who has lived in Majahual for a year. "The walls felt like they were going to explode."

Morales weathered the storm in her new brick-walled house with her husband and 7-month-old daughter, Luna. Dean blew out the windows and pulled pieces from their roof.

But they fared better than most: Hundreds of homes in the Caribbean town of Majahual collapsed as Dean crumpled steel girders, splintered wooden structures and washed away about half of the immense concrete dock that transformed the sleepy fishing village into Mexico's second-busiest cruise ship destination.

The storm surge covered almost the entire town in waist-deep sea water, said fishermen Jorge Gonzalez, 29. He found refuge in the back room of a flooded beachfront store, and had to help his dog, Camilo, keep his head above the rising tide.

"There came a moment when I thought this was the end," Gonzalez said.

Little was known about the thousands who rode out the storm in low-lying communities of stick huts.

Hurricane-force winds could strike as far north to La Cruz, about 200 miles south of Texas, the hurricane center said.

But CBS News correspondent Manuel Gallegus reports it doesn't appear Dean will have much of an impact on the Lone Star State.

"At this point, Texas is on a stand-down. They've called off their emergency preparedness operations," Gallegus said from South Padre Island. "The Coast Guard, the National Guard, the school buses, the medical helicopters, the military aircraft — all (are) on stand-down now."

© MMVII, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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