Chantal buffets, drenches Yucatan
BY MARTIN MERZER
Tropical Storm Chantal, reaching the mainland after a long ocean voyage, struck Belize and Mexico's Yucatan peninsula Monday night with near-hurricane force wind and up to 12 inches of rain.
Cruise ships altered itineraries. Airlines canceled flights. Fishermen
returned to port, residents moved into shelters and tourists mapped
``If it's stormy tomorrow, they will do the obligatory shopping
and I'll find something stronger to drink than coffee,'' Bob Brunner,
vacationing in Cancún, said of his wife and daughter.
Forecasters expected Chantal to survive its encounter with land and redevelop in the Gulf of Mexico, but remain on a course that would spare Florida and the rest of the United States.
Long-term forecasts carried the storm across the Bay of Campeche and back into Mexico near the Gulf Coast town of Tuxpan, possibly as a hurricane.
``Only a modest increase in wind speeds could result in sustained winds near hurricane force,'' said forecaster Richard Pasch of the National Hurricane Center, based on the Florida International University campus in West Miami-Dade.
The center of the storm made landfall at 11 p.m. EDT at Chetumal, Mexico, a port city of about 100,000 people near the border with Belize.
Forecasters warned, however, that the strongest wind -- around
70 mph, just four mph below hurricane strength -- and most of the rain
trailed the center and would
pummel the region this morning.
They predicted eight to 12 inches of rain, locally heavier amounts in mountainous areas and storm surge flooding of up to three feet.
Watches and warnings covered the entire coast of Belize, the east coast of the Yucatan and much of Mexico's Gulf Coast.
In the Mexican resort city of Cancún, palm trees swayed earlier Monday as tourists huddled in hotel lobbies. It wasn't until Monday morning that many hotel managers told guests about the storm. Still, few signs emerged that people were overly concerned.
``Bring it on! Bring it on!'' said Chris Watkins of Atlanta.
And on it came.
Civil defense authorities in the state of Quintano Roo, which includes Chetumal and Cancún, evacuated fishermen from nearby coral reefs and prepared more than 1,000 hurricane shelters for 200,000 people.
According to local media reports, 250 flights to or from the Yucatan were canceled and several cruise ships changed ports to avoid the storm.
Meanwhile, forecasters said another storm that appeared to be brewing in the Atlantic was losing steam about 650 miles east of the Caribbean islands.
``Development, if any, will be slow to occur,'' said hurricane specialist James Franklin.
This report was supplemented with Herald wire services.
© 2001 The Miami Herald