CANCUN – Hurricane Zeta, the 27th named storm in a very busy Atlantic season, made landfall on the Caribbean coast of the eastern Yucatan Peninsula late Monday while whipping the resorts around Tulum with rain and wind.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Zeta came ashore just north of Tulum with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph).
Quintana Roo state Gov. Carlos Joaquín had warned that “nobody should be on the streets ... you shouldn’t go out anymore” until the hurricane passed.
Zeta was predicted to lose some power while crossing the peninsula, before regaining hurricane strength in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday while heading for the central U.S. Gulf Coast and a likely landfall Wednesday night. A hurricane watch was posted from Morgan City, La., to the Mississippi-Alabama state line.
In Playa del Carmen, between Tulum and Cancun, Mexican tourist Elsa Márquez held up her beach towel Monday so it flapped in the wind, rattling with the strong gusts Monday a few hours before Zeta's arrival.
“This is our first experience (in a hurricane) and the truth is we are a little afraid because we don't know what will happen, but here we are,” said Márquez, who was visiting the resort from the north-central state of Queretaro.
Another tourist, Mario Ortiz Rosas from the western state of Michoacan, looked at the rising waves, noting: “I didn’t plan for this, but it looks like it is going to get complicated.”
Some boats that normally carry tourists in Cancun took refuge in a nearby lagoon channel, anchored among the mangroves to avoid the battering wind, waves and storm surge. Boat captain Francisco Sosa Rosado noted they had to perform the same maneuver barely three week ago, when the area was hit by a stronger Hurricane Delta, which made landfall with top winds of 110 mph (175 kph).
“With Delta, the gusts of wind were very strong ... the anchor lines were at risk of breaking,” Sosa Rosado said. "I hope it won’t be as bad with this hurricane.”
Trees felled by Delta littered parts of Cancun, stacked along roadsides and in parks and there was concern they could become projectiles when Zeta blew through. A number of stoplights around the vacation destination remained unrepaired since Delta.
Quintana Roo state officials reported nearly 60,000 tourists in the state as of midweek. They said 71 shelters were readied for tourists or residents who might need them, though the governor said he hoped it would not be necessary to move guests out of their hotels.
Zeta broke the record for the previous earliest 27th Atlantic named storm that formed Nov. 29, 2005. It's also the 11th hurricane of the season. An average season sees six hurricanes and 12 named storms.
There have been so many storms this season that the hurricane center had to turn to the Greek alphabet after running out of assigned names.
Zeta is the furthest into the Greek alphabet the Atlantic season has gone. There was also a Tropical Storm Zeta in 2005, but that year had 28 storms because meteorologists later went back and found they missed one, which then became an “unnamed named storm."