Hurricane Karl kills 2 in landslide, remnants drench mountains of central Mexico

By E. Eduardo Castillo, AP
Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hurricane Karl kills 2, remnants drench Mexico

CORDOBA, Mexico — Authorities sent helicopters to rescue scores of people stranded by flooding and hunted for others feared washed away as the remnants of Hurricane Karl pushed inland from Mexico’s Gulf Coast. At least two people were reported dead.

Out in the Atlantic, meanwhile, Hurricane Igor strengthened into a Category 2 storm and became better organized on a track that menaced Bermuda late Sunday.

Karl, which caused widespread property damage as a hurricane in the port city of Veracruz, weakened to a tropical depression Friday night. It was dissipating over the mountains early Saturday, but still was expected to produce up to another 3 inches of rain in some areas, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

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, a state bordering the Mexican capital.

Karl had sustained winds of 115 mph (185 kph) when it hit land at midday Friday about 10 miles (15 kilometers) northwest of the port city of Veracruz, but the storm rapidly lost force over rugged territory that includes Mexico’s highest volcano, 18,619-foot (5,675-meter) Pico de Orizaba. The storm’s winds were down to 25 mph (35 kph) by Saturday morning.

Mexico’s Navy sent helicopters to rescue about 40 families trapped on a hill surrounded by floodwaters in the town of San Pancho, north of Veracruz city, said state Civil Protection Secretary Silvia Dominguez. South of the city, in Cotaxtla, houses were flooded up to their roofs and officials were hunting for seven members of two families feared washed away by a swollen river.

Veracruz state Gov. Fidel Herrera said some 16,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes as the storm roared through, downing trees, power lines and billboards and erasing beachfront huts.

“We went through several hours of anxiety but also of organization, coordination,” Herrera said. “Fortunately, we are all still here. The death toll (in the state) was zero. This was my biggest challenge yet as governor.”

Veracruz city’s civil protection chief, Isidro Cano Luna, said there had not been a storm like it since Hurricane Janet in 1955.

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 on Friday, though air and bus service began to resume on 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 approach of the storm had Veracruz state jittery because about 80,000 people already had their homes damaged and nine people were killed in flooding from previous heavy rains in the southern part of the state since Aug. 19.

Out in the Atlantic, sprawling Hurricane Igor’s top winds were near 110 mph (175 kph) Saturday and the Hurricane Center said conditions could begin to deteriorate in Bermuda by Saturday night.

It was on track to reach Bermuda on Sunday night and a hurricane warning was in effect.

Farther east over the Atlantic, Hurricane Julia weakened to a tropical storm, with winds decreasing to 50 mph (85 kph) Saturday.

Associated Press Writer Miguel Angel Hernandez in Veracruz, Mexico, contributed to this report.

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