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Mexico for Hurricane Dean's second strike
Mexico braced for Hurricane Dean's second landfall today as the storm strengthened to Category 2 with winds of 100 miles (160 kilometers) per hour in the Gulf of Mexico.

The storm may come ashore between the port cities of Tampico and Veracruz ``within a few hours,'' the U.S. National Hurricane Center said at 10 a.m. Veracruz time. Dean struck the Yucatan Peninsula yesterday with winds of 168 mph before weakening over land. The hurricane was about 95 miles north of Veracruz, the center said. It was moving west-northwest at about 18 mph.

``It's too late for anyone to do any further preparation on the coast -- they need to just stay where they are,'' hurricane specialist Jamie Rhome said today by telephone from the center in Miami. ``The eye of the storm is almost on the coast.''

Mexico closed its busiest shipping port, Veracruz, in the state of the same name. Mexico's Interior Ministry declared an emergency yesterday in 81 of Veracruz state's municipalities, according to an e-mailed release from the state civil protection agency. The classification allows the government to free up federal funds for rescue and disaster relief.

Shops in the state boarded up windows, people stocked up on provisions, and schools there were closed in preparation for Dean's passage. Oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico remained closed after state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos evacuated almost 19,000 workers, shutting 80 percent of the country's oil output.

Evacuations Begin

Authorities began evacuating people in low-lying areas in the cities of Tuxpan and Poza Rica and surrounding areas to 700 shelters, Veracruz Governor Fidel Herrera said in a television interview today with Grupo Televisa SAB. Rain has begun to pelt the state and may do so for five days as the storm bogs down in Veracruz's mountainous terrain, causing flooding, Herrera said.

``Many shops in Tampico are boarding up their windows, and the malls were packed yesterday with people stocking up on food and other supplies,'' Esdrey Escobar, a clerk at the Holiday Inn Tampico Altamira, said by telephone. Only about a third of the hotel's 45 employees will come to work today, because many are preparing to leave if an evacuation is ordered, Escobar said.

A hurricane warning was in effect from south of Campeche to La Cruz, and a tropical-storm warning was in place from there north to Bahia Algodones. The storm may bring ``large and dangerous battering waves'' along the Mexican coast, with storm- surge flooding of up to 8 feet (2.4 meters), the hurricane center said. Rainfall of up to 20 inches (51 centimeters) ``could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,'' it said.

Nuclear Precautions

Hundreds of buses were put on standby in case of a radiation leak at the Laguna Verde nuclear plant, which may lie in the hurricane's path, the Washington Post reported.

``The security of the Laguna Verde nuclear power station won't be affected by the storm, because it is designed to withstand this type of natural phenomenon,'' Mexico's Federal Electricity Commission said yesterday in a statement on its Web site. The plant is suspending production until the storm passes.

About 2,000 electricity workers, 200 vehicles, 70 cranes and two helicopters were on standby to deal with repairs to the power network after the storm has passed, according to the commission.

Quintana Roo state, which bore Dean's brunt yesterday, appeared to have escaped serious damage because landfall was in a sparsely populated area near Majahual. The north of the state, including the resorts of Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen, was spared the most violent winds.

Less Damage Than Expected

``Fortunately, from what we can tell from early information, and given the violence of the hurricane, the damage is less than what had been expected,'' Mexican President Felipe Calderon said yesterday at a news conference, according to a transcript on the president's Web site.

No deaths were reported in the Yucatan, where roofs were ripped off some buildings, signposts and electrical poles were downed, and Quintana Roo's state capital, Chetumal, was left without power. In Yucatan state, in the north of the peninsula, at least 37,000 acres (15,000 hectares) of crops were destroyed, according to the state government's Web site.

In neighboring Belize, some buildings collapsed and roofs were lost in rural areas, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency said in a statement on its Web site.

Insured losses from Hurricane Dean will be less than $1.9 billion, according to AIR Worldwide Corp., which uses computer software to assess damage. Risk Management Solutions Inc. estimated damage at $750 million to $1.5 billion.

Dean was the third-most-powerful Atlantic hurricane at landfall, falling behind the Florida Keys' 1935 Labor Day hurricane and Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, the U.S. hurricane center said.

Before hitting Mexico, Dean swept through the Caribbean, destroying crops and plantations on islands including St. Lucia, Martinique, Dominica and Jamaica. At least two people were killed in Jamaica, two in Dominica and one in St. Lucia, according to the Caribbean agency. The Associated Press put the Caribbean-wide death toll at 12.

Source: By Alex Morales and Kelly Riddell, Bloomberg

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