Ernesto skirting coast on way to flood-prone area

Associated Press Modified: August 9, 2012 at 10:45 am •  Published: August 9, 2012

VERACRUZ, Mexico (AP) — Tropical Storm Ernesto headed into Mexico's southern Gulf coast Thursday as authorities in the flood-prone region prepared shelters, army troops and rescue personnel for drenching rains.

Ernesto spun through the southern Gulf of Mexico overnight, across waters dotted with oil rigs operated by the state oil company, after hurling rain across the Yucatan Peninsula but causing little major damage. The government closed its largest Gulf coast port, Veracruz and the smaller ports of Alvarado and Coatzacoalcos.

Coatzacoalcos, located near the storm's path southeast of Veracruz port, was already getting hit with bands of rain from Ernesto, said city civil defense chief Juventino Martinez.

"It's raining intermittently, it rains, its stops, and then it rains again," Martinez said. "We have some flooding, some water building up" on streets in lower-lying sections of the city. He said 40 shelters were ready but hadn't been used yet. Municipal employee Brito Gomez reported water was waist-high in some neighborhoods.

About 2,000 army and navy personnel are on stand-by to head to the jungle-clad hillside inland to help in rescue work if needed, said Noemi Guzman, Veracruz state civil defense director.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm's sustained winds had declined to about 60 mph (95 kph) as it interacted with land along the coast. It had grown into a hurricane shortly before landfall Tuesday night near the cruise ship port of Mahahual, but it weakened as it crossed the peninsula. Ernesto then steamed back out in the Gulf of Mexico.

Forecasters said Ernesto was expected to roar through Veracruz state's lush Los Tuxtlas region, roughly 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Coatzacoalcos, and it could dump as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain, creating the threat of torrential flooding.

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