Hurricane Grace strengthened into a Category 2 storm Friday as it headed for a second landfall in Mexico, this time taking aim at the Gulf coast after crashing through the country's main tourist strip.
The storm lost punch as it zipped across the Yucatan Peninsula, but it emerged late Thursday over the relatively warm Gulf of Mexico and was gaining energy.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Grace had maximum sustained winds of 100 mph (161 kph) early Friday evening. It was centered about 105 miles (170 kilometers) northeast of the port of Veracruz and was heading west at 10 mph (17 kph).
Grace was slowing over the warm waters of Bay of Campeche, leading forecasters to warn that the storm will get stronger before making landfall. Mexico's weather service had warned earlier in the week that Grace could make the second landfall as a Category 2 hurricane.
The forecast track would take it toward a coastal region of small fishing towns and beach resorts in the state of Veracruz, then over a mountain range toward the heart of the country and the greater Mexico City region.
The National Meteorological Service of Mexico predicted Grace would make landfall late Friday or early Saturday between the Veracruz state towns of Tecolutla and Nautla, with winds between 96 mph (154 kph) and 110 mph (177 kph).
Grace already was causing strong winds, high waves and rain in the Veracruz communities of Tuxpan, Poza Rica, Xalapa and Veracruz city as well as in coastal towns in the states of Tabasco and Tamaulipas, the agency said.
Forecasters said it could drop 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of rain, with more in a few isolated areas — bringing the threat of flash floods, mudslide and urban flooding.
Hours before the hurricane's arrival, there was already a strong swell on the Veracruz shore. Some fishermen pulled their boats out of the water and carried them inside harbors to prevent damage, while merchants boarded up the windows of their businesses to protect them.
Authorities expect the central states and the Mexican capital to receive the impact as a tropical storm, with strong gusts and intermittent rains during the weekend.
The Mexican government urged people to remain on alert.
Heriberto Montes Ortiz, the head of the General Technical Sub-Directorate of Mexico's National Water Commission, said Grace could cause rivers and streams to swell as well as flooding in low-lying areas, landslides and damage to roads and highways.
The agency is monitoring rivers, dams and communities expected to see heavy rain, particularly in the states of Veracruz, Puebla, Hidalgo and Tlaxcala.
The hurricane hit early Thursday near Tulum, a resort town famed for its Mayan ruins. Some families passed harrowing hours sheltering from cracking trees and flying debris.
As the storm approached, Carlos González grabbed his 1 1/2-year-old son and ran from his home with his wife to a school-turned-shelter, using his cellphone light to find his way through darkened streets.
“The only thing I have left is what I'm wearing,” the 35-year-old construction worker said. “I knew my house wasn't going to stand it because it's made of cardboard. When the wind came I was really scared and decided to leave.”
There were no reports of deaths, but many streets were blocked by fallen limbs and trees that pulled down power lines, leaving thousands in the dark Thursday.
Most businesses remained closed, but the few that opened saw long lines of people waiting to buy tortillas and other food.
Quintana Roo Gov. Carlos Joaquín said the storm had knocked out power to some 84,000 customers in Cancun and 65,000 in Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Puerto Aventura and Tulum. But he said there were no reported deaths. (AP)