FELIPE CARRILLO PUERTO, Mexico (AP) — Hurricane Dean swept across the Yucatan Peninsula yesterday, toppling trees, power lines and houses as it bore down on the heart of Mexico’s oil industry. Glitzy resorts on the Mayan Riviera were spared, but vulnerable Mayan villages were exposed to the full fury of one of history’s most intense storms.
President Felipe Calderon said no deaths were immediately reported in Mexico, after Dean killed 13 persons in the Caribbean. But driving rain, poor communications and impassable roads made it difficult to determine how isolated Mayan communities fared in the sparsely populated jungle where Dean made landfall as a ferocious Category 5 hurricane.
Dean weakened over land but was expected to strengthen as its eye moved over the Bay of Campeche, home to more than 100 oil platforms and three major oil-exporting ports. The sprawling, westward storm was projected to slam into the mainland this afternoon with renewed force near Laguna Verde, Mexico’s only nuclear power plant.
“We often see that when a storm weakens, people let down their guard completely. You shouldn’t do that,” said Jamie Rhome at the U.S. National Hurricane Center. “This storm probably won’t become a Category 5 again, but it will still be powerful.”
At 5 p.m. EDT, Dean had winds of 80 mph and was centered about 60 miles west-southwest of Campeche. The storm was moving west at 20 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.
While 50,000 tourists were safely evacuated from resorts on the Yucatan Peninsula, many poor Indians closer to the storm’s direct path refused military orders to leave their homes, according to Gen. Alfonso Garcia, who was running shelters in Felipe Carrillo Puerto, 30 miles north of the eye’s path.
Troops evacuated more than 250 small communities, and 8,000 people took refuge in 500 shelters, said Jorge Acevedo, a Quintana Roo state spokesman.
Little was known about the thousands who rode out the storm in low-lying communities of stick huts or the handful who hid from soldiers evacuating smaller resorts like Majahual, where Dean made landfall with 165 mph winds and gusts of 200 mph.
Dean’s path takes it directly through the Cantarell oil field, Mexico’s most productive. The entire field’s operations were shut down just ahead of the storm, reducing daily production by 2.7 million barrels of oil and 2.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas.
Insured losses from the storm are likely to range between $750 million and $1.5 billion, according to Risk Management Solutions, which calculates hurricane damage for the insurance industry. Most of that came in Jamaica, which said yesterday it was postponing Aug. 27 general elections to survey the damage.
The latest forecast put the storm on target to hit land again this afternoon at Tecolutla, a coastal river town about halfway between Tampico and Veracruz.
That’s 400 miles south of Texas, where only heavy surf was expected.
Mr. Calderon cut short a trip to Canada so he could travel to the hardest-hit areas. President Bush, standing by his side at a summit in Montebello, Quebec, offered U.S. aid.
“We stand ready to help,” Mr. Bush said. “The American people care a lot about the human condition in our neighborhood, and when we see human suffering we want to do what we can.”
Dean was the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall since record keeping began in the 1850s.