Hurricane Delta has rapidly intensified into a Category 4 hurricane with 130mph winds on a course to hammer south-eastern Mexico before approaching the US Gulf coast.
The immediate worst impacts are expected along the resort-studded north-eastern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where hurricane conditions are expected on Tuesday night and landfall early on Wednesday.
From Tulum to Cancun, tourism-dependent communities still being soaked by the remnants of Tropical Storm Gamma could bear the brunt of the storm.
Mexico began evacuating tourists and residents from coastal areas along its Riviera Maya on Tuesday.
Quintana Roo governor Carlos Joaquin said buses were already carrying people off Holbox Island and all of the hotels in Puerto Morelos were bussing their guests inland to government shelters.
Cancun hotels had already been told of their designated shelters and were transporting their guests. Some hotels that had exemptions because their structures were rated for major hurricanes were preparing to shelter guests in place.
Cancun mayor Mara Lezama Espinosa said the city had opened more shelters than usual to give people more space in recognition of the Covid-19 pandemic. She urged people to move to shelters.
State tourism minister Marisol Vanegas said there are 40,900 tourists in Quintana Roo, a fraction of what it would normally be due to the pandemic.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said 5,000 federal troops and emergency personnel are being made available in Quintana Roo to aid the storm efforts.
The state’s airports remained open on Tuesday morning, but beaches were closed.
“I honestly don’t see much that will stop it until it reaches Yucatan, due to low vertical wind shear, high deep-layer moisture, and the very warm and deep waters of the north-western Caribbean,” National Hurricane Centre forecaster Eric Blake said.
Cuba’s westernmost province and the Cayman Islands are under tropical storm warnings as Delta shifted west.
Data from a US Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter plane indicates that Delta will continue to strengthen as its forward speed increases, the Hurricane Centre said.
It is expected to hit the Yucatan as a major hurricane, with an extremely dangerous storm surge raising water levels by as much as 6ft to 9ft in the Yucatan, accompanied by large and dangerous waves and flash flooding inland.
Once it moves on from Mexico, Delta is expected to become even stronger over the Gulf of Mexico, sustaining winds up to 130mph as it approaches the US Gulf Coast, where landfall around Friday would be followed by heavy rain across the south-eastern US.