Norbert weakens to tropical storm over Mexico

Sunday, October 12th 2008, 7:25 am
By: News 9


Associated Press Writer

PUERTO SAN CARLOS, Mexico (AP) -- After making landfall over mainland Mexico, Norbert weakened Sunday from a hurricane to a tropical storm, weather officials said.

Norbert made landfall over mainland Mexico as a Category 1 hurricane with winds near 85 mph (140 kph) early Sunday morning, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

But those winds had weakened to near 40 mph (65 kph) and Norbert was expected to rapidly weaken to a tropical depression later Sunday morning, the Miami-based center said.

Hurricane warnings for the coast of Mexico have been discontinued, the center said.

At 8 a.m. Sunday, Norbert's center was located about 70 miles (110 kilometers) west-southwest of Chihuahua and was moving northeast near 21 mph (34 kph). The storm or its remnants were expected to reach western Texas and New Mexico later on Sunday.

Hurricane Norbert made landfall over mainland Mexico early Sunday morning about 25 miles (35 kilometers) southeast of Huatabampo, the center said.

The storm moved over the Mexican mainland after tearing off roofs and forcing hundreds of people to flee widespread flooding on the Baja California peninsula.

It hit land Saturday near Puerto Charley on Baja's southwest coast as a Category 2 hurricane, but weakened to Category 1 after emerging over the Gulf of California, the center said.

Baja residents fled to shelters in school buses and army trucks as floodwaters rose in their homes. Winds uprooted palm trees and the water rose knee-high in some streets of the town of Puerto San Carlos.

"We left our house because we were scared. Our house is pretty poor and the water was already coming in," said Maria Espinosa, 54, who arrived at a high school with her daughter and two grandchildren. They joined about 60 other people sitting on foam mattresses and blankets.

Streets turned into rushing, knee-deep rivers in Ciudad Constitucion, on the southern peninsula. Furniture, car parts and trash cans floated down the roads that were deserted except for a few police patrols and a soaked dog on high ground.

More than 2,000 people were in the city's shelters, many of them from coastal villages where nearly all homes had lost their roofs, said Miguel Arevalos, the local Civil Protection director.

"We came here because our roof is gone, the wind ripped it off," said Luis Mesa, 39, taking shelter at an elementary school after fleeing his village of Pueblo Nuevo. "They said on the radio it was going to get really ugly."

Early Sunday, the storm had passed over the Gulf of California away from the peninsula and was moving toward the mainland. The storm passed far north of the peninsula's resort-studded Los Cabos.

Authorities evacuated people from low-lying areas in Sonora state and opened 60 shelters capable of holding more than 6,000 people, said Willebaldo Alatriste, the state's civil protection director.

Robert Fernandez, sales manager of the Paradiso Resort and Beach Club in Sonora's popular vacation town of San Carlos, said the hotel set up sandbags along the beach, reinforced its windows and warned visitors against swimming in the ocean.

"But we don't think it will be too bad," he said.

The storm's remnants were expected to continue to dump rain on water-logged West Texas, where authorities prepared for more flooding.

State and local officials plan to activate an emergency operations center Monday in Presidio, where an earthen levee is struggling to hold back the swollen Rio Grande.

Meanwhile, a weakening Tropical Storm Odile hugged the southwest coast of Mexico.

Civil Protection officials in Guerrero state urged about 10,000 people living along river banks or other dangerous areas to evacuate.

Mudslides and fallen trees blocked roads, and 150 homes were under 13 feet (4 meters) of water in El Paraiso, a small town north of Acapulco, officials said.

Odile's estimated center was located about 45 miles (70 kilometers) west of Manzanillo and was moving north-northwest near 12 mph (19 kph). It carried sustained winds of about 40 mph (65 kph) but forecasters said it was quickly becoming disorganized.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)