Hurricane Norbert slams into Mexico's Baja coast

December 15, 2010 11:15:16 AM PST
Hurricane Norbert swept across Mexico's southern Baja California peninsula on Saturday, tearing off roofs and forcing hundreds of people to flee flooded homes. It hit land near Puerto Charley on Baja's southwest coast as a Category 2 hurricane, but weakened to Category 1 after emerging over the Gulf of California, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. Norbert was expected to reach mainland Mexico sometime before dawn on Sunday.

Baja residents fled to shelters in school buses and army trucks as floodwaters rose in their homes. Winds uprooted palm trees and the water rose knee-high in some streets of the town of Puerto San Carlos.

"We left our house because we were scared. Our house is pretty poor and the water was already coming in," said Maria Espinosa, 54, who arrived at a high school with her daughter and two grandchildren. They joined about 60 other people sitting on foam mattresses and blankets.

Streets turned into rushing, knee-deep rivers in Ciudad Constitucion, on the southern peninsula. Furniture, car parts and trash cans floated down the roads that were deserted except for a few police patrols and a soaked dog on high ground.

More than 2,000 people were in the city's shelters, many of them from coastal villages where nearly all homes had lost their roofs, said Miguel Arevalos, the local Civil Protection director.

"We came here because our roof is gone, the wind ripped it off," said Luis Mesa, 39, taking shelter at an elementary school after fleeing his village of Pueblo Nuevo. "They said on the radio it was going to get really ugly."

Late Saturday afternoon, the hurricane was centered about 70 miles (115 kilometers) east-southeast of Loreto, a small town popular with tourists in Baja's east coast. It was moving northeast at 15 mph (24 kph). The storm passed well north of the resort-dotted Los Cabos area on the southern tip of the peninsula.

A hurricane warning was in place along the mainland coast from Topolobampo north to the port town of Guaymas.

Authorities evacuated people from low-lying areas in Sonora state and opened 60 shelters capable of holding more than 6,000 people, said Willebaldo Alatriste, the state's civil protection director.

Robert Fernandez, sales manager of the Paradiso Resort and Beach Club in Sonora's popular vacation town of San Carlos, said the hotel set up sandbags along the beach, reinforced its windows and warned visitors against swimming in the ocean.

"But we don't think it will be too bad," he said.

The storm's remnants were expected to continue to dump rain on water-logged West Texas, where authorities prepared for more flooding.

State and local officials plan to activate an emergency operations center Monday in Presidio, where an earthen levee is struggling to hold back the swollen Rio Grande.

Meanwhile, a weakening Tropical Storm Odile hugged the southwest coast of Mexico.

Civil Protection officials in Guerrero state urged about 10,000 people living along river banks or other dangerous areas to evacuate.

Mudslides and fallen trees blocked roads, and 150 homes were under 13 feet (4 meters) of water in El Paraiso, a small town north of Acapulco, officials said.

Odile had winds of 45 mph (75 kph) and was located about 80 miles (130 kilometers) west of the port city of Lazaro Cardenas.

But a small deviation in its path could bring the storm inland, the hurricane center said.