Lorenzo becomes hurricane off Mexico

September 29, 2007 - 0:0

VERACRUZ, Mexico (AP) -- Lorenzo strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane as it bore down on Mexico's Gulf Coast with powerful winds and rain, forcing authorities to evacuate low-lying coastal communities before its projected Friday landfall.

Officials canceled classes and set up temporary shelters on the coastline of Veracruz state Thursday, as the Mexican government issued a hurricane warning from Palma Sola to Cabo Rojo.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Florida said late Thursday that Lorenzo was forecast to strengthen further before hitting land in six to 12 hours near the small port of Tuxpan, and warned that ""preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.""
As a steady rain drenched the area late Thursday, state authorities ordered the evacuation of at least 30 communities near several rivers and opened more than 60 shelters.
""The speed with which this storm is developing is forcing us to react as fast as we can,"" said Ranulfo Marquez, Veracruz's deputy secretary for public safety.
The ports of Tecolutla, Tuxpan and Nautla were ordered to close by midnight, Veracruz's port authority said.
The mountain ranges and river areas in the Gulf state of Veracruz are dotted with villages connected by precarious roads and susceptible to disaster. Hurricane Dean brought widespread flooding to the area in August, and in 1999 a rainstorm caused floods that killed at least 350 people.
At 8 p.m. EDT, Lorenzo was centered about 75 miles east-southeast of Tuxpan and was moving westward at 6 mph, the center said. It had top sustained winds near 75 mph.
The storm was expected to slam ashore with ""dangerous and battering waves"" as well as storm surge flooding of 2 to 4 feet, the center said.
Forecasters said the slow-moving Lorenzo could dump 5 to 10 inches of rain in Veracruz, with isolated downpours reaching 15 inches.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Karen weakened slightly in the open Atlantic Ocean. Karen's center was about 845 miles east of the Windward Islands at 5 p.m. and moving northwest near 13 mph. Its maximum sustained winds had decreased from 65 mph to 60 mph, and some further weakening was forecast for the disorganized storm.