CANCUN, Mexico – Tropical Storm Rina battered Mexico’s Caribbean coast with winds and rain Friday, knocking out power and downing trees in some areas but sparing the resort-studded region the major hurricane that many had feared.
Thousands of tourists had left Cancun and the Riviera Maya ahead of the storm’s late Thursday arrival, worried by early forecasts that Rina could arrive as a Category 3 hurricane. But it weakened before nearing land and its maximum sustained winds were down to about 45 mph (70 kph) Friday. They had hit 110 mph (175 kph) at Rina’s peak.
There were no immediate reports of injuries, but most businesses remained closed and officials warned people to be cautious. Police said at least one convenience store was looted of liquor overnight in Cancun, where authorities had banned the sale of alcohol during the emergency.
Playa de Carmen, a resort town across from the island of Cozumel, was left without electricity and streets were largely empty as Rina swept along the coast.
The Mexican Navy sent boats to Holbox island, off the northeastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, to forcibly remove about 80 people who had balked at leaving the island during an earlier evacuation of about 2,300 people.
Lines snaked from ticket counters in Cancun’s crowded airport as airliners heading to Canada and Europe waited in pouring rain. State Tourism Director Juan Carlos Gonzalez Hernandez estimated 10,000 tourists had left by Wednesday night, though thousands of others remained.
NASA cut short an undersea laboratory mission near Key Largo, Florida, bringing the crew back to land, and schools were closed in communities along the coast, as were ports.
But some decided to ride out the weakened storm.
“We would prefer to lie on the beach and get in the ocean, but right now all we can do is walk around and go shopping,” said Vera Kohler, a 27-year-old tourist from Frankfurt, Germany, who arrived Wednesday and planned to stay in the area until Sunday.
Domenico Cianni, a retired restaurateur from Vancouver, Canada, said he also prepared for a hurricane by buying extra food and beer and putting shutters on the windows of his rental home. But after hearing Rina had been downgraded to a tropical storm he decided to join tourists at Playa del Carmen’s pier.
“We were curious about what’s happening. We wanted to be part of the action,” Cianni said.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm was likely to keep bringing rains across the region for days. It was centered about 20 miles (30 kilometers) north of Cancun and was moving to the north-northeast at 4 mph (6 kph) Friday morning, but was expected to double back to the south and move along the coast toward Central America while weakening further.
Associated Press writer Gabriel Alcocer in Cancun contributed to this report.