Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Norbert strengthens into Category 2 hurricane

Hurricane Norbert strengthened into a powerful Category 2 storm over the Pacific Ocean and forecasters warned that it could reach Mexico's Baja California peninsula by the weekend.

The hurricane was expected to become a major Category 3 storm on Wednesday and then turn toward the northeast on Thursday on a path that could take it over the southern Baja peninsula and the Mexican mainland, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Forecasters said Norbert was moving west-northwest at 10 mph (17 kph) and by late Tuesday was located 500 miles (805 kilometers) south of Baja California's tip. It had sustained winds of near 105 mph (165 kph).

Norbert is the seventh hurricane of the east Pacific season.

On Mexico's Gulf coast, Marco weakened into a tropical depression late Tuesday after slamming into land as a tropical storm with near hurricane-force winds.

The storm hit land about 55 miles (90 kilometers) north of Veracruz.

Mexico's state oil company had shutdown of some oil platforms in the gulf and evacuated some 3,000 people ahead of Marco's arrival.

Marco was expected to dissipate overnight as it moved over Mexico's mountainous terrain, but forecasters said rains of up to 5 inches could still unleash mudslides.

Marco appeared to have largely spared water-logged southern Veracruz state, where rain-swollen rivers jumped their banks, leaving the towns of Minatitlan and Hidalgotitlan under 10 feet (3 meters) of water last week.

Veracruz state authorities closed schools and set up some 200 shelters, while soldiers and rescue officials bused people from low-lying communities.

In northern Veracruz state, authorities evacuated a hospital in the town of Misantla, where two overflowing rivers threatened with flooding it.

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