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Hurricane Paula 2010 Forms, Heads Toward Mexico

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CANCUN, Mexico — A strengthening Hurricane Paula roared toward Mexico's resort-dotted Yucatan Peninsula on Tuesday night as authorities ordered evacuations on two small islands.

The hurricane smashed homes and forced schools to cancel classes in Honduras early Tuesday, then grew into a Category 2 storm with top sustained winds of 100 miles per hour (160 kph) on its way to the Yucatan, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

Moving north at near 9 mph (15 kph), Paula's center was expected to pass just to the east of Cancun on Wednesday morning, and decrease in forward speed after that, the center said.

It said the hurricane could get close to western Cuba by Wednesday night or early Thursday.

The center warned that preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.

Authorities of the Caribbean state of Quintana Roo state, where Cancun is located, ordered the evacuation of 1,500 residents of Isla Holbox and 60 fishermen from Isla Contoy. The evacuees were taken to the town of Kantunilkin, on the Yucatan peninsula.

Hurricane Paula was expected to hit the islands of Cozumel, Isla Mujeres and Holbox as it passed just off the southern coast of Yucatan, authorities said.

More than 1,800 tourists remained on Cozumel late Tuesday after authorities suspended all sea transportation. City officials said 16 shelters were available on the island but none had been used.

In Cancun, 15 flights were canceled Tuesday and seven international flights for Wednesday would be canceled, Cancun airport commander Jose Chavez said.

Dozens of boat owners in Cancun hauled yachts and other vessels to shore, while sea tour operators canceled reservations. At least one company, Transbordadores del Caribe, canceled ferry trips from Playa del Carmen to the resort island of Cozumel south of Cancun, though others were still operating while the still-mild weather.

Armando Galmiche closed down his water-skiing tour business in Cancun and canceled 15 reservation he had for Tuesday afternoon.

"It's already low season for tourism and, with this hurricane, things are going to get worse," he said, lamenting the loss of revenue.

Along Cancun's popular strip of night clubs and discotheques, workers took down billboards and other large objects ahead of heavy winds.

Peter Bruin, a 25-year-old tourist from Rotterdam, Netherlands, was taking a stroll along the city's hotel zone, unaware that a hurricane was heading to Cancun.

"I hadn't heard anything but I'm not afraid," Bruin said. "It will be my first hurricane experience."

Early Tuesday, heavy rains and high winds destroyed 19 homes in northeastern Honduras, said Lisandro Rosales, head of Honduras' emergency agency. Officials closed schools along the country's Atlantic coast and some airports were reported closed.

Tuesday afternoon, the hurricane was centered about 85 miles (135 kilometers) south-southeast of Cozumel.

Paula was expected to dump from 3 to 6 inches (8 to 15 centimeters) of rain on Honduras, northern Belize, eastern portions of the Yucatan Peninsula and parts of western and central Cuba.

The government of Mexico issued a hurricane warning for the country's Caribbean coast from Punta Gruesa north to Cabo Catoche, including the island of Cozumel. Warnings are issued when hurricane conditions are almost certain to occur.

A hurricane warning also was in effect for Cuba's westernmost province of Pinar del Rio.

Forecasters warned of possible flooding and landslides and suggested residents avoid fishing trips or water sports.

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