Mexico mobilises military as 'extremely dangerous' Hurricane Delta nears
'Life-threatening storm surge', destructive waves, extreme winds and the risk of significant flash flooding forecast.
Mexico on Tuesday mobilised thousands of soldiers and began evacuating tourists from hotels in some of its top holiday resorts as an "extremely dangerous" hurricane barrelled towards the Yucatan Peninsula.
Hurricane Delta rapidly intensified in the Caribbean to reach Category 4 status, the second-highest, and was on course to hit Mexico's Riviera Maya coast by early Wednesday, US forecasters said.
Delta is expected be an "extremely dangerous hurricane" when it makes landfall in Mexico, bringing a "life-threatening storm surge", destructive waves, extreme winds and the risk of significant flash flooding, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC).
The region is home to a string of beachside resorts including Cancun, although the number of visitors has plummeted because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit Mexico hard.
Hotel guests in Cancun and other resorts were being moved to emergency shelters, while residents were also being transferred to safe locations, according to the authorities.
They said the shelters had been sanitized to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 81,000 people in Mexico and battered the key tourism industry.
Soldiers wearing masks and face shields were seen preparing to deploy for relief efforts.
"The order has been given to mobilize up to 5,000 troops with all the necessary equipment to protect the population," President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told reporters.
The storm was packing maximum sustained winds of around 140 miles (220 kilometers) per hour, according to the NHC.
Delta was expected to pass southwest of the Cayman Islands on Tuesday afternoon.
- Airports to close -
At 1800 GMT (10pm UAE), the hurricane was located about 260 miles south east of the holiday island of Cozumel, just off the Yucatan Peninsula.
Non-essential activities in the state of Quintana Roo, which is home to Cancun, will be suspended from the early afternoon, authorities said.
State governor Carlos Joaquin Gonzalez announced the closure of the Cancun and Cozumel airports from 5:00 pm (2am Wednesday, UAE).
People living in the area stocked up on food, drinking water and wooden boards to protect their homes as the storm approached.
"We're rushing to get wood for the windows. We only learned this morning that the hurricane was coming here," said Laura Mendez, a 54-year-old in Cancun.
Fishermen hauled their boats ashore to prevent them being swept away.
Delta is forecast to bring heavy rainfall and floods to parts of the southeastern United States later this week, according to the NHC.
Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana urged people there to start getting ready for its arrival.
"This storm will affect Louisiana and everyone needs to prepare accordingly," he wrote on Twitter.
Delta is the 26th named storm of an unusually active Atlantic hurricane season.
Over the weekend, six people died and thousands were forced from their homes as Tropical Storm Gamma triggered floods and landslides in southeastern Mexico.
In September, meteorologists were forced to break out the Greek alphabet to name Atlantic storms for only the second time ever, after the 2020 hurricane season blew through their usual list, ending on Tropical Storm Wilfred.
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