Hurricane Lorenzo slams Mexico's Gulf coast

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MEXICO CITY, Sep 28 (Reuters) Hurricane Lorenzo swept into Mexico's Gulf coast early today, packing 130 kph winds and dumping heavy rain on the already waterlogged state of Veracruz.

The US National Hurricane Center said the center of the Category 1 hurricane was just inland, 65 km south-southwest of the port city of Tuxpan, at 1130 hrs IST.

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.

''Rapid weakening is expected later this morning as Lorenzo moves inland over eastern Mexico,'' the Miami-based hurricane center said.

Lorenzo was the third hurricane to hit Mexico in the last few weeks after Dean and Henriette pounded its Caribbean and Pacific coasts.

The hurricane center forecast flooding up to 4 feet 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 on Thursday 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.

Tuxpan is primarily a grain port but also home to a large Navy fleet.

Lorenzo was moving west at 13 kph, the hurricane center 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.

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 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 yesterday.

Another tropical storm, Karen, yesterday weakened as it churned through the Atlantic some 780 milest(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 DS1245

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