Hurricane Lorenzo lashes Mexican Gulf coast

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MEXICO CITY, Sep 28 (Reuters) Hurricane Lorenzo lashed Mexico's Gulf coast, packing 130 kph winds and drenching the already waterlogged state of Veracruz with heavy rain as its eye approached the port of Tuxpan.

Lorenzo, which strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane last evening, could grow fiercer before it makes landfall in the early hours today but should weaken rapidly after than, the US National Hurricane Center said.

It was not seen affecting Mexico's oil production but around 100,000 people living between Tuxpan and the town of Nautla further south were evacuated to storm shelters.

If it makes landfall at hurricane force, Lorenzo will be the third hurricane to hit Mexico in the last few weeks after Dean and Henriette pounded its Caribbean and Pacific coasts.

''Some additional strengthening is possible,'' the hurricane center said, forecasting flooding up to 1.2 metres above normal tide levels, dangerous battering waves and up to 25 cm of rainfall in Veracruz state.

Civil protection officials in the coffee-growing region said some 100,000 people would spend the night on camp beds in schools and public halls further inland. ''We started evacuating them in the afternoon,'' a spokeswoman said.

Lorenzo is the weakest grade of hurricane, but much of Veracruz state, especially north of Tuxpan, is flooded after weeks of relentless rain, leaving it vulnerable to storms.

It was already raining heavily in Tuxpan, primarily a grain port but also home to a large Navy fleet, and Nautla by midday, hotel staff there told Reuters by telephone.

At 0830 hrs IST, Lorenzo's center was about 110 km past-southeast of Tuxpan and moving west at around 10 kph.

OIL OPERATION OUT OF RISK Oil ports in the Mexican part of the Gulf of Mexico were all open to shipping, although some reported large sea swells. The ports are east of where Lorenzo is expected to hit.

Mexico's state oil company, Pemex, saw no impact on its oil installations and, given the path of the storm, was not planning emergency measures, a company official said.

Another tropical storm, Karen, weakened as it churned through the Atlantic on Thursday some 1,255 km east of the Windward Islands. It was expected to lose more strength as it moves northwest, missing the Caribbean.

The 2007 Atlantic storm season has generated three hurricanes, including Humberto, which startled coastal residents of Texas and Louisiana this month by unexpectedly strengthening into a hurricane before landfall, and two ferocious maximum-strength Category 5 storms.

One of the Category 5 hurricanes, Dean, swiped Jamaica and then plowed into Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, killing at least 27 people.

The other, Felix, tore into Central America, killing at least 130 in Nicaragua.

REUTERS SG BD0955

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