By Tamara Corro
TECOLUTLA, Mexico – Hurricane Grace gathered more strength as it barreled towards Mexico’s Gulf coast on Friday afternoon, threatening to lash the oil-producing state of Veracruz and central Mexico with strong winds and heavy rains.
In Tecolutla, a resort on the Gulf of Mexico, some tourists at the beach from Mexico City were enjoying the calm before the storm, even as light rain started to fall.
“We had to come, even if we get a bit wet,” said Guillermina Morales, who was on a trip planned over four months ago.
Grace, a Category 1 Hurricane, is forecast to strengthen further before it reaches land late on Friday or early on Saturday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
It should then weaken rapidly as it dissipates over land during the weekend, the Miami-based NHC said.
Veracruz and its waters are home to several oil installations, including Petroleos Mexicanos’ Lazaro Cardenas refinery in Minatitlan in the south of the state.
Current forecasts showed Grace expected to hit Veracruz well to the north of the city.
Through Sunday, the NHC said Grace would dump 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) of rain over large swathes of eastern and central Mexico, and up to 18 inches in some areas. The heavy rainfall would likely cause areas of flash and urban flooding, it added.
“We ask the population to be very alert,” Laura Velazquez, head of Mexico’s civil protection authority, told a regular news conference with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Grace pounded Mexico’s Caribbean coast on Thursday, downing trees and causing power outages for nearly 700,000 people, but without causing loss of life, authorities said. Earlier in the week, it doused Jamaica and Haiti with torrential rain.
By Friday afternoon, Grace was about 115 miles (185 kilometers) northeast of the city of Veracruz, blowing maximum sustained winds of 90 miles per hour (150 km per hour), with higher gusts, and moving west at 10 mph (17 kph), the NHC said.