CANCUN, Mexico — Hurricane Rina plodded westward late Wednesday at near 6 mph (9 kph) on a path toward Mexico’s tourist beaches, its threat a real one to people on the Yucatan Peninsula but far diminished from what it had been earlier in the day. Authorities evacuated some fishing communities and closed schools along the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, and NASA cut short an undersea laboratory mission near Key Largo, Florida, bringing the crew back to land.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) has predicted the storm will hit the well-known tourist zone on Thursday after strengthening over the next 48 hours.
Rina is forecast to remain a hurricane as it sweeps along Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations Cancun, Cozumel and the Riviera Maya, on Thursday, though forecasters predicted it would continue to weaken.
Hundreds of residents from the fishing town of Punta Allen, south of Tulum, were taken to emergency shelters and a smaller group was evacuated from the atoll of Banco Chinchorro on Tuesday.
Luh McDevitt, 56, a furniture and interior designer in Cozumel, said her family was fitting hurricane shutters to the house and securing furniture.
“I am not really scared,” said the Cincinnati, Ohio, native who has lived in Cozumel since 2000. “Hurricane Andrew in 1992 was a Category 5. The worst part of the hurricane is after. We didn’t have electric in our house for three weeks.”
State Tourism Director Juan Carlos Gonzalez Hernandez said there were about 83,000 tourists in the state, with about 45,000 of those on a stretch of coast south of Cancun that includes Tulum and Playa de Carmen, and almost 28,000 in Cancun.
There were only about 1,719 tourists in Cozumel, and many of them were leaving, Gonzalez Hernandez said.
At least eight cruise ships were changing itineraries away from the storm’s path, said Carnival Cruise Lines spokesman Vance Gulliksen.
The area was badly damaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, when Cancun’s famous white-sand beaches were largely washed away. Insurance officials estimated total damage at $3 billion.