TULUM, Mexico — Tens of thousands of tourists fled the beaches of the Mayan Riviera on Monday as monstrous Hurricane Dean roared toward the ancient ruins and modern oil installations of the Yucatan Peninsula.
By midevening Monday, after brushing past the Cayman Islands, Dean had become a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 160 mph. The eye was expected to strike the Yucatan region early today.
Category 5 storms are rare; only three have hit the U.S. since records have been kept.
Mexico’s state oil company, Petroleos de Mexico, said it was evacuating all of its more than 14,000 offshore workers in the southern Gulf of Mexico, which includes the giant Cantarell oil field.
In Cancun, visitors abandoned its swank hotels to swarm outbound flights. Officials evacuated more rustic lodgings farther south, where Dean which has killed at least 12 people across the Caribbean was expected to smash ashore early today.
The heart of Maya culture was in Dean’s path dozens of historical sites including the stunning seaside ruins of Tulum and a temple where oppressed Mayas said they found divine inspiration for a 19th-century uprising.
Government anthropologists said they were preparing 13 archaeological sites for the storm, shooing away tourists, pruning trees and removing signs and vegetation that strong winds could turn into damaging projectiles.
Also vulnerable is the 2.5 million-acre Sian Kaan nature reserve, which includes remnants of a canal network used by oceangoing Mayan traders 1,200 years ago.
Outer bands of the storm were likely to bring rain, flooding and gusty winds to south Texas, already saturated after an unusually rainy summer.
The National Guard and search and rescue teams have been mobilized. Shelters were set up in 28 communities. As many as 80,000 barrels of gasoline have been shipped to Rio Grande Valley gas stations.
The state sent six C-130 aircraft to Cameron County in the state’s southern corner in case any critically ill patients needed evacuation from hospitals. About 3,000 buses were on standby for possible evacuations.