Beryl moves across Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula as Texas authorities urge coastal residents to prepare

By MARTÍN SILVA and JIM VERTUNO – Associated Press

TULUM, Mexico (AP) — Beryl moved across Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on Friday after devastating the resort town of Tulum and was preparing to reemerge in the Gulf of Mexico, prompting Texas authorities to urge coastal residents to prepare for the impending storm.

Beryl struck Tulum as a Category 2 hurricane, knocking down trees but causing no injuries or deaths before weakening to a tropical storm as it moved across the peninsula. The U.S. National Hurricane Center expects the storm to regain hurricane strength in the warm waters of the Gulf and reach southern Texas late Sunday or early Monday.

Beryl, the first storm to develop into a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic, claimed at least 11 lives as it passed over the Caribbean islands earlier this week.

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The center of the storm approached the Mexican Gulf Coast near Progreso, Yucatan, on Friday afternoon and was located 615 miles (985 kilometers) east-southeast of Brownsville, Texas. It was moving west-northwest at 15 mph (24 kph) and reaching maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (100 kph), the hurricane center said.

In the Gulf, Beryl could reach wind speeds of 150 km/h before reaching Texas. However, it is currently difficult to estimate where the storm could make landfall, meteorologists said.

Some counties in Texas have already issued voluntary evacuation orders for low-lying areas, and authorities have urged coastal residents to prepare.

In Corpus Christi on the Texas coast, city officials announced that they had distributed 10,000 sandbags in less than two hours on Friday, exhausting their supply.

“This is a determined storm that is still strong,” Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said at a press conference.

Patrick issued a preemptive disaster declaration for 39 counties, allowing state and local authorities to begin planning and contracting for relief efforts.

Nim Kidd, head of the state’s emergency management agency, said oil companies have begun withdrawing their employees from drilling rigs along the coast that could be in the path of the storm.

Northeastern Mexico and southern Texas were hit by tropical storm Alberto just a few weeks ago.

Beryl has wreaked havoc in Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Barbados this week. Officials say three people were killed in Grenada, three in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, three in Venezuela, and two in Jamaica.

The head of Mexico’s civil protection agency, Laura Velázquez, said Beryl had caused no deaths or injuries there and that the damage was “minor,” but tens of thousands of people were still without power.

Tulum was plunged into darkness as the storm came ashore, knocking out power. Howling winds set off car alarms throughout the city. Wind and rain were still lashing the coastal town and surrounding areas Friday morning. Army brigades roamed the streets of the tourist town, clearing downed trees and power lines.

After watching Beryl sweep through the Caribbean, 37-year-old Lucía Nagera Balcaza was among those stocking up on food and hiding in their homes.

“Thank God we woke up this morning and everything was fine,” she said. “The roads are a disaster, but we’re out here cleaning up.”

Before the storm reached Mexico, authorities had set up emergency shelters in schools and hotels. When the wind began to blow across the beaches of Tulum on Thursday, officials rode across the sand on quads with megaphones, urging people to leave the beach. Authorities evacuated beach hotels. Even sea turtle eggs were removed from beaches threatened by the storm surge.

Tourists also took precautions. Lara Marsters, 54, a therapist from Boise, Idaho, who is visiting Tulum, said she filled up empty water bottles at the faucet.

“We will barricade ourselves and take care of our safety,” she said.

While many on the Yucatan Peninsula were breathing deeply, Jamaica and other hurricane-ravaged islands were still in distress. As of Friday morning, 55 percent of Jamaica was still without power and most of the country was without running water, according to government figures.

Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness promised swift assistance to residents affected by Hurricane Beryl after visiting one of the worst-hit areas of the island, the southern parish of St. Elizabeth, on Thursday afternoon.

“I know some of you are experiencing discomfort and displacement and I want to assure you that the government will act as quickly as possible to provide you with the assistance you need,” he said.

Earlier this week, the hurricane damaged or destroyed 95 percent of homes on two islands in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, capsized fishing boats in Barbados, ripped off roofs and caused power outages in Jamaica.

On Union Island, part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a man who identified himself as Captain Baga described the effects of the storm, including that he had filled two 7,570-litre rubber water tanks in preparation.

“I tied them down on six sides and watched as the wind lifted the tanks and carried them away – filled with water,” he said on Thursday. “I’m a sailor and I would never have believed that the wind could do what I saw. If anyone had ever told me that the wind could do such a thing, I would have told them they were lying!”

There were rubbles of houses lying all over the island that looked as if they had exploded.

Vertuno reported from Austin, Texas. Associated Press writers John Myers Jr. and Renloy Trail in Kingston, Jamaica; Mark Stevenson and Megan Janetsky in Mexico City; Coral Murphy Marcos in San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Lucanus Ollivierre in Union Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines contributed to this report.

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