VERACRUZ, Mexico—Hurricane Grace closed in on Mexico’s Gulf shore as a major Category 3 storm late Friday, drenching small fishing towns and beach resorts as it headed for its second landfall in the country in two days.
The storm had lost power while crossing over the Yucatan Peninsula on Thursday, swirling through Mexico’s main tourist strip, but it rapidly drew in power from the relatively warm Gulf of Mexico as it moved toward the country’s mainland.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Grace had maximum sustained winds of 120 mph (195 kph) late Friday and could gain a bit more strength before making landfall. It was centered about 75 miles (120 kilometers) southeast of Tuxpan and heading west at 10 mph (17 kph).
Forecasters said Grace would quickly lose strength Saturday as it swirled inland over a mountain range carrying its heavy rains toward the heart of the country, including the Mexico City region. Forecasters said it could drop 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of rain, with more in a few isolated areas—bringing the threat of flash floods, mudslide, and urban flooding.
Hours before nearing shore, Grace caused strong winds, high waves, and rain in the Veracruz communities of Tuxpan, Poza Rica, Xalapa and Veracruz city as well as in coastal towns in the states of Tabasco and Tamaulipas, Mexico’s meteorological agency said.
Fishermen pulled their boats out of the water and carried them inside harbors to prevent damage as the storm’s leading edge whipped at the coast. Merchants boarded up the windows of their businesses to protect them.
Authorities expect the central states and the Mexican capital to receive the impact as a tropical storm, with strong gusts and intermittent rains during the weekend.
Heriberto Montes Ortiz, the head of the General Technical Sub-Directorate of Mexico’s National Water Commission, said Grace could cause rivers and streams to swell as well as flooding in low-lying areas, landslides and damage to roads and highways.
The agency was monitoring rivers, dams, and communities expected to see heavy rain, particularly in the states of Veracruz, Puebla, Hidalgo, and Tlaxcala.
The hurricane hit early Thursday near Tulum, a Yucatan resort town famed for its Mayan ruins. Some families passed harrowing hours sheltering from cracking trees and flying debris.
As the storm approached, Carlos González grabbed his 1.5-year-old son and ran from his home with his wife to a shelter set up at a school, using his cellphone light to find his way through darkened streets.
“The only thing I have left is what I’m wearing,” the construction worker said. “I knew my house wasn’t going to stand it because it’s made of cardboard. When the wind came I was really scared and decided to leave.”
There were no reports of deaths, but many streets were blocked by fallen limbs and trees that pulled down power lines, leaving thousands in the dark Thursday.
Most businesses remained closed Friday, and the few that opened drew long lines of people waiting to buy tortillas and other food.
Quintana Roo state Gov. Carlos Joaquín said the storm had knocked out power to some 84,000 customers in Cancun and 65,000 in Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Puerto Aventura, and Tulum.
By Felix Marquez and Fabiola Sanchez