Hurricane Delta made landfall just south of the Mexican resort of Cancun on Wednesday, downing trees and knocking out power along the north-eastern coast of Yucatan Peninsula, but without immediate reports of deaths or injuries.
The US National Hurricane Centre in Miami said satellite imagery, radar data from Cuba and surface observations in Mexico indicate that the centre of the Category 2 storm came ashore around 5.30am local time, sustaining top winds of 110 mph.
Civil defence official Luis Alberto Ortega Vazquez said there were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries, but Delta had toppled about 95 trees and knocked out electricity to parts of Cancun and Cozumel.
He said about 39,000 people had been evacuated in the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan, and that about 2,700 people had taken refuge in storm shelters in the two states.
Quintana Roo governor Carlos Joaquín said on Wednesday morning that power had been knocked out to about half of customers in Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen.
There were reports of some flooding in Cozumel and Playa del Carmen. Overnight emergency calls came in from people whose windows or doors were broken and they were taken to shelters, he said.
Mr Joaquin said that within a couple of hours hotels that did not suffer serious damage could hopefully begin to bring their guests back from shelters. The storm was still over much of the state, but he said state officials would soon be evaluating damage.
Early on Wednesday, guests of the Fiesta Americana Condesa hotel awoke in the sweltering classrooms of the Technological Institute of Cancun campus where they had been moved on Tuesday.
All of the windows had been covered with plywood so they could not see what was happening, but they said the howling winds started around 2am and there had been heavy rain.
“The hard part has been the waiting,” said Ana Karen Rodríguez of Monterrey. She and a friend arrived in Cancun on Tuesday morning and by afternoon were shuttled to the shelter. She said the hotel had planned well. “It’s been good. I feel comfortable actually.”
Throughout the day on Tuesday, the situation had appeared grave for this stretch of the Mexican coast.
Delta had increased in strength by 80 mph in just 24 hours, and its top winds peaked at 145 mph before it weakened as it neared the shore.
Forecasters warned it was still an extremely dangerous storm nevertheless, with a life-threatening storm surge that could raise water levels 9ft to 13ft, along with large and dangerous waves and flash flooding inland.
Thousands of Quintana Roo residents and tourists were hunkering down in government shelters. Everyone had been ordered off the streets by 7pm.
The evacuations of low-lying areas, islands and the coastline expanded as Delta exploded over the warm Caribbean waters offshore. Much of Cancun’s hotel zone was cleared out as guests were bused to inland shelters. In Cancun alone, the government opened 160 shelters.
State tourism officials said more than 40,000 tourists were in Quintana Roo, a fraction of what would normally be there. Delta’s damage comes on top of months of pandemic-induced lockdown that has devastated the state’s tourism industry.
Delta was forecast to spend several hours lashing the Yucatan Peninsula before moving into the Gulf of Mexico and growing into a “considerably larger” storm before striking the US Gulf coast.
People in Louisiana or Mississippi should prepare now for hurricane-force winds to begin hitting their coastlines on Friday, the hurricane centre advised.
Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards said Delta was expected to make landfall there on Friday night or Saturday morning and the entire state is in the storm’s possible path.
State and local officials in coastal areas were shoring up levees, sandbagging and taking other protections measures, he said.
Louisiana is still recovering from Hurricane Laura, which ravaged the southwestern region as it roared ashore as a Category 4 storm in August.
More than 6,600 Laura evacuees remain in hotels around the state, mainly in New Orleans, because their homes are too heavily damaged to return.
Mexico put the commander of its navy in charge of the federal response.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday that 5,000 federal troops and emergency personnel were being made available in Quintana Roo to aid in storm efforts.