Mexico deploys military as major hurricane approaches

Cancun (Mexico) (AFP) –


Mexico on Tuesday mobilized thousands of soldiers and began evacuating tourists in some of its top holiday resorts as an "extremely dangerous" hurricane barreled towards the Yucatan Peninsula.

Hurricane Delta rapidly intensified in the Caribbean to reach Category 4 status, the second-highest, and was on course to hit southeastern Mexico early on Wednesday, US forecasters said.

The region is home to a string of beachside resorts including Cancun, although the number of visitors has plummeted because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit Mexico hard.

Authorities in the Yucatan said they were moving guests from hotels in Cancun and other resorts to emergency shelters, while residents were also being moved to safe locations.

"The order has been given to mobilize up to 5,000 troops with all the necessary equipment to protect the population," President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told reporters.

The storm was packing maximum sustained winds of around 130 miles (215 kilometers) per hour, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Delta was expected to pass southwest of the Cayman Islands on Tuesday afternoon.

It is expected to be an "extremely dangerous hurricane" when it makes landfall in Mexico, bringing large and destructive waves and the risk of significant flash flooding, the NHC said.

- Airports to close -

At 1520 GMT, the hurricane was located about 315 miles (510 kilometers) southeast of the holiday island of Cozumel, just off the Yucatan Peninsula.

Non-essential activities in the state of Quintana Roo, which is home to Cancun, will be suspended from the early afternoon, authorities said.

State governor Carlos Joaquin Gonzalez announced the closure of the Cancun and Cozumel airports from 5:00 pm (2200 GMT).

People living in the area stocked up on food and drinking water as the storm approached.

Delta is forecast to bring heavy rainfall and floods to parts of the southeastern United States later this week, according to the NHC.

Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana urged people there to start getting ready for its arrival.

"This storm will affect Louisiana and everyone needs to prepare accordingly," he wrote on Twitter.

Delta is the 26th named storm of an unusually active Atlantic hurricane season.

Over the weekend, six people died and thousands were forced from their homes as Tropical Storm Gamma triggered floods and landslides in southeastern Mexico.

In September, meteorologists were forced to break out the Greek alphabet to name Atlantic storms for only the second time ever, after the 2020 hurricane season blew through their usual list, ending on Tropical Storm Wilfred.