Powerful Hurricane Odile closes in on southern end of Mexico's Baja California peninsula



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CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico — A powerful Hurricane Odile closed in on the resort area of Los Cabos on Sunday night as Mexican authorities evacuated vulnerable coastal areas and readied shelters for up to 30,000 people.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Odile's core was on a track to cross onto the south end of Baja California late Sunday and move near or over the southern portion of the peninsula Monday and Tuesday.

Rain was falling by midafternoon, hours before the storm's expected arrival. Gusty winds whipped palm trees, waves pounded the rocky shore and fluttering black flags signaled that beaches were closed due to high surf.

Odile's maximum sustained winds were 125 (205 kph) Sunday night, after being as high as 135 mph earlier in the day. Its center was about 30 miles (45 kilometers) south-southeast of the southern tip of Baja California and moving to the north-northwest at 17 mph (28 kph).

"We are going to be hit, do not risk your life," warned Marcos Covarrubias, governor of Baja California Sur.

After reaching Category 4 strength earlier Sunday, Odile weakened some to Category 3. But it was still a major storm that threatened to bring high winds, deadly surf and heavy rains to Baja and parts of the mainland, and forecasters said it could strengthen again.

Some 800 marines were on standby, and officials readied heavy equipment to help out in areas where mudslides could occur. Police with megaphones walked through vulnerable areas in Cabo San Lucas urging people to evacuate.

"I'm leaving. It's very dangerous here," said Felipa Flores, clutching a plastic bag with a few belongings as she took her two small children from her neighborhood of El Caribe to a storm shelter. "Later on we're going to be cut off and my house of wood and laminated cardboard won't stand up to much."

Long lines formed at gas stations and supermarkets as residents stocked up on food, bottled water, flashlights and batteries.

Some went to the shore to take photos and video of the ocean as the waves picked up and the skies darkened.

At least 22 airline flights were canceled, and some tourists said they were stranded. Others camped out at the Los Cabos international airport hoping to get out before the storm, but the facility shut down all air operations late in the afternoon.

Luis Felipe Puente, national coordinator for Mexico's civil protection agency, said 164 shelters had been prepared for as many as 30,000 people in the state of Baja California Sur.

He said 30,000 tourists, nearly all of them foreigners, were in the area, and could seek refuge in any of the 18 hotels set up as shelters. People were warned to stay inside in the safer areas of hotels and keep away from doors and windows.

Hotel employees distributed movies and board games to guests in anticipation of everyone having to hunker down in lounges and conference rooms during the night. Workers put protective plastic sheeting over windows.

Ann Montalvo, a tourist from California staying at the Westin resort, said hotel workers seemed to be taking steps to ensure guests' safety, and she wasn't worried.

"I live in the San Francisco area where we have earthquakes, so we're always kind of on our toes anyway," Montalvo said.

Besides being powerful, Odile was a large storm. The U.S. hurricane center said hurricane-force winds extended outward from the center up to 50 miles (85 kilometers) and tropical storm-force winds as far as 185 miles (295 kilometers).

It warned that a dangerous storm surge could cause coastal flooding accompanied by large, destructive waves. Rainfall of 5 to 10 inches was expected, along with isolated amounts up to 15 inches.

A hurricane warning was in effect for Baja California Sur from Punta Abreojos to Loreto. Mexican authorities declared a maximum alert for areas in or near Odile's path, and ports in Baja California were ordered closed.

In the central Atlantic, Hurricane Edouard had sustained winds near 85 mph (140 kph), although it was forecast to remain far out at sea and pose no threat to land.

The U.S. hurricane center said Edouard's center was 835 miles (1,345 kilometers) northeast of the northern Leeward Islands and was moving northwest at 15 mph (24 kph).


Associated Press writer Maria Verza in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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