Karl kills 2 in landslide, weakens to tropical storm moving inland to central Mexico

By Miguel Angel Hernandez, AP
Friday, September 17, 2010

Karl kills 2 in Mexico, weakens to tropical storm

VERACRUZ, Mexico — Hurricane Karl smashed into Mexico’s Gulf Coast on Friday, killing at least two people and forcing the country to shut down its only nuclear power plant and its central Gulf Coast oil platforms.

As the storm pushed inland, a landslide buried a house in the town of Nexticapan, killing a 61-year-old woman and a 2-year-old girl and injuring two other people, said Aru Becerra, a spokeswoman for Civil Protection in Puebla state.

Karl weakened rapidly into a tropical storm with winds of 70 mph (115 kph) as it slogged across central Mexico. It was on track to pass south of Mexico City, where the skies darkened and rain started falling Friday evening.

The storm had sustained winds of 115 mph (185 kph) when it hit land at midday about 10 miles (15 kilometers) northwest of Veracruz.

It caused widespread damage in the port city, knocking down trees, billboards and power poles, said Veracruz’s civil protection chief, Isidro Cano Luna. He said there had not been a storm like it since Hurricane Janet hit in 1955.

Veracruz state Gov. Fidel Herrera surveyed the heaviest damage in the coastal towns north of the port. Food huts along the beach were destroyed in the fishing town of Chachalaca. In Ursulo Galvan, 10 homes collapsed or lost their roofs.

“The hurricane is following a course that will also impact the mountain areas,” Herrera said. “We are releasing more water from the reservoirs, which could be overwhelmed by the rain.”

In the city of Veracruz, hundreds of fallen trees and signs made some streets impassable and about 70 homes were flooded.

Local forecasters said the storm dumped 8 inches (215 millimeters) of rain in the city just in the first 90 minutes after arriving. Flights into Veracruz were canceled, and public transit was shut down.

A stretch of coastal road farther north in Nautla was washed out.

Rains in the mountain regions could cause flash floods and mudslides, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

Mexico City officials put crews on alert and began preparing for Karl, which they said could still have the strength of a tropical storm for its forecast arrival near the capital Saturday.

State oil company Petroleos Mexicanos closed 14 production wells in the northern part of Veracruz state and evacuated workers from some platforms in the Gulf.

Workers also were evacuated from the shuttered Laguna Verde nuclear power plant, Mexico’s largest electricity producer, along with residents in the nearby town of Farallon and in the coastal towns of Cardel and Palma Sola. The latter was reportedly hardest hit so far by flooding, with a resident saying that at least 20 families were trapped.

“We asked for help because right now we have no way to get out,” said Palma Sola resident Agustin Tlapa. “We’re totally flooded.”

About 80,000 people have had their homes damaged and nine people have been killed in flooding from previous heavy rains in southern Veracruz since Aug. 19. Officials expressed concern Karl could raise river levels again, just as some residents were thinking of returning to their homes.

Meanwhile, out in the Atlantic, Hurricane Igor’s top winds weakened Friday to 105 mph (165 kph) on a track that could take it over Bermuda by Monday. The British territory’s government issued a hurricane warning.

Farther east over the Atlantic, Hurricane Julia weakened slightly Friday but remained a Category 1 storm with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph).

As a tropical storm, Karl hit Yucatan on Wednesday, downing tree limbs and causing power outages.

Associated Press Writer E. Eduardo Castillo in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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