Hurricane Paul weakens to tropical storm off Mexico's Pacific coast

Tuesday, October 24th 2006, 5:51 am
By: News On 6

SAN JOSE DEL CABO, Mexico (AP) _ Hurricane Paul weakened to a tropical storm Tuesday as it headed toward the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, whipping up high surf that left one person dead and another missing in the resort region.

Paul had maximum sustained winds near 65 mph, but was expected to further weaken before making landfall south of Los Cabos early Wednesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

Forecasters warned, however, that the storm could still dump up to 10 inches of rain in the mountains on Mexico's mainland, causing severe flooding.

Paul's maximum sustained winds had reached 110 mph on Monday, making it a Category 2 hurricane. It was the third hurricane to threaten the Pacific coast's resort areas this season.

At 2 p.m. EDT, Paul was 245 miles southwest of Cabo San Lucas and was moving north at about 9 mph. A tropical storm warning was in effect for the tip of Baja California and a tropical storm watch was in effect for the mainland from Mazatlan to Altata.

A 23-year-old Mexican fisherman died Monday after he slipped off rocks being battered by the rough sea in the coastal community of Todos Santos, north of Los Cabos, said Baja California Sur civil defense director Jose Gajon.

Off the coast of Cabo San Lucas, officials were searching for the body of an American man who reportedly drowned while swimming in surging waves Monday.

Known for their rugged beauty, San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas are popular with sports fishermen and celebrities and famous for world-class golf courses and pristine beaches flanked by cactus-dotted deserts.

Streets were already flooded with ankle-deep water in Cabo San Lucas, where authorities closed schools and opened eight shelters Tuesday. Tourists were taking the wet weather in stride.

``I'm used to this kind of thing. I spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy so it doesn't bother me,'' said Keith Howard, 55, of British Colombia, who was walking in cloudy San Jose del Cabo. ``I don't plan on going fishing though.''

Dave Snow, 47, and Shauna Grady, 39, of Boulder, Colo., walked the rain-soaked streets of San Jose del Cabo early Tuesday after Paul forced them to postpone their stay in Cabo Pulmo, an exposed stretch of coast to the north that is popular among divers.

``If it had stayed at hurricane level, it would have been scarier,'' Snow said. ``It seems pretty mellow now.''

In Cabo San Lucas, hotel guests played board games in lobbies or read in their rooms.

``It looks as though the storm is dissipating and we're not going to get much of anything at all,'' said Sandra Scandiber, owner of the small Los Milagros Hotel in Cabo San Lucas. ``I don't think today is going to be a beach day, but tomorrow just may be.''

Mexico's Pacific coast was struck by two hurricanes last month. Hurricane John battered Baja California, killing five people and destroying 160 homes, while Hurricane Lane hit the resort town of Mazatlan, causing relatively minor damage.

Both Atlantic and Pacific hurricane seasons, which end Nov. 30, have been normal this year, Feltgen said, adding that the U.S. has been fortunate to not be hit by any of the five hurricanes in 2006. The Atlantic had a record season last year with devastating storms, including Hurricane Katrina, which slammed New Orleans and the U.S. Gulf coast.