Mexican mainland spared Hurricane Dean’s worst

MEXICO CITY — Hurricane Dean moved onshore to Mexico’s mainland Wednesday after flattening homes and crops on the Yucatan Peninsula. But the storm appeared to spare lives as well as the country’s signature beach resorts and key oil installations.

The threat of serious flooding and mudslides remained as the former Category 5 hurricane shrank to a tropical depression, dropping heavy rain on villages in the mountains of the eastern Sierra Madre.

An estimated 20,000 people along the coast were evacuated, but authorities have listed no deaths or serious injuries from Hurricane Dean. One man was reportedly electrocuted Wednesday by a power line while trying to secure his roof in advance of the hurricane.

“The tropical storm continues moving west, and overnight it will reach the city of Queretaro and the central part of country, but it will be much weaker,” said Martin Reyes of Mexico’s National Weather Service.

As a precaution, government officials closed public schools in the states of Hidalgo, Puebla and Queretaro.

Mexican officials had prepared for the worst, evacuating thousands of tourists from Caribbean beaches and sending troops, medical personnel and even portable ATMs after Hurricane Dean killed 20 people farther east and then headed toward Cancun and other resorts along Mexico’s Mayan Riviera.

Two years ago, Hurricane Wilma smacked Cancun, stranding thousands of tourists, killing seven people and causing more than $2 billion in damage, mostly to the high-rise hotels that span miles of sugar-sand beach.

Dean landed early Tuesday about 150 miles south of Cancun, at Felipe Carrillo Puerto, where farmers, fishermen and villagers bore the brunt of the storm’s force. The state capital of Quintana Roo, Chetumal, had widespread flooding and hundreds of fallen trees. State officials said 15,000 families are homeless.

Rain and winds reaching 165 mph wrecked an estimated 60,000 acres of crops — mostly corn but also papaya, watermelon and citrus, state officials said.

Many farmers will lose most of their income for the year, said Jorge Flores, an agronomist with the Central University of the Yucatan Peninsula.

“The state or federal government needs to create an emergency fund for farmers who lost this year’s crop and get them help to start next year’s,” he said.

After battering the Yucatan Peninsula overnight Tuesday, the hurricane weakened as it moved west over land toward the oil-rich southern Gulf of Mexico. Mexican officials had evacuated oil rigs, halting production in a region that normally yields 2.6 million barrels of oil a day and 2.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

By the time it reached oil platforms on the gulf, Hurricane Dean had diminished from a rare Category 5 to a Category 1 hurricane.

Officials of Pemex , Mexico’s national oil company, said Wednesday that they hoped to resume oil operations by Friday in the southern gulf, which provides 80 percent of Mexico’s oil, the nation’s leading source of revenue. Mexico is the third-largest U.S. oil supplier behind Canada and Saudi Arabia.

Dean regained some strength from the warm gulf waters and packed 100-mph winds when it landed on the mainland mid morning Wednesday at Tecolutla, a tourist and fishing village between Tampico and the port city of Veracruz.

“You can practically feel the winds, they’re so strong,” Maria del Pilar Garcia said by telephone from inside the hotel she manages in Tuxpan, a town about 40 miles north of where Dean made landfall. “I hope this passes quickly and the rivers don’t overflow.”

Sounds of crashing metal prompted farmer Moises Aguilar to take a dangerous risk in Monte Gordo, 20 miles down the coast from Tecolutla. At the height of the storm, he dashed outside his house, about 300 yards from the sea, and struggled against the wind as his neighbor’s roof ripped apart.

“We’ve closed the curtains because we don’t want to see what is going on out there,” Aguilar said, his voice nearly drowned out by another crash. “I think that’s more metal roofing from my garage.”

But as the hurricane passed inland and weakened, Mexican officials, including President Felipe Calderon, expressed relief the damage was not worse.

“Given the fury this hurricane presented, we’ve come out OK, and we’ve come out OK because we were prepared,” Calderon said Wednesday after a tour of damaged regions. “Now, the challenge is to return the regions hit by the hurricane to help the families that lost their homes.”

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