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Hurricane Paula heads for Mexican tourist coast

Hurricane Paula intensified Tuesday as it headed for Mexico’s resort-dotted Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba after drenching parts of Central America during a particularly active storm season.

Paula strengthened to a category two on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale, packing winds of 100 miles (160 kilometers) per hour, according to the latest bulletin from the US-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) at 1745 GMT.

“Some slight strengthening is possible today and Wednesday,” it added.

Authorities put the southeastern region in Mexico on high alert, with the popular tourist havens of Cancun and Cozumel island expecting to be lashed by heavy rains later Tuesday and hurricane-force winds by Wednesday.

They warned people to remain inside, particularly on the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Paula was around 140 miles (220 kilometers) southeast of Cozumel, the latest forecast said.

The ninth hurricane of the June-through-November Atlantic season was forecast to veer northeast toward Cuba later in the week, the NHC said.

Paula raised the troubling prospect of renewed flooding in already waterlogged Central America and Mexico, after weeks of devastation from recent heavy rains that sparked deadly mudslides.

The hurricane brought heavy rains to parts of Nicaragua and Honduras and was expected to dump another three to six inches (7.5 to 15 centimeters) of rain on the Yucatan and Cuba.

“In areas of mountainous terrain… these rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” the NHC warned.

Luis Carlos Rodriguez, head of Quintana Roo’s civil defense department, said high pressure in the Gulf of Mexico was worsening the weather over the Yucatan.

“This system is bringing a considerable amount of water,” he told AFP.

Flooding and landslides have killed more than 400 people in Central America and Mexico, left tens of thousands homeless and caused billions of dollars in damage in recent months.

Mexico has suffered its worst rainy season on record, with a series of tropical storms and hurricanes which drenched large swathes of the country.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had predicted an especially stormy 2010, with 14 to 23 named storms for this season, including eight to 14 hurricanes.

On average, there are 11 named storms, six of which become hurricanes.

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