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Mexico tourists flee hurricane

Tourists fleeing Hurricane Rina crowded Cancun's airport even as the cyclone lost some of its punch on a course for Mexico's resort-studded Caribbean coast.

Authorities evacuated some fishing communities and closed schools along the coast of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula and Nasa cut short an undersea laboratory mission near Key Largo, Florida, bringing the crew back to land.

Rina is forecast to remain a hurricane as it sweeps along Mexico's most popular tourist destinations Cancun, Cozumel and the Riviera Maya, though forecasters predicted it would continue to weaken.

Rina's maximum sustained winds dropped to 85mph on Wednesday night, down from 110mph earlier. It was about 150 miles south-south east of the island of Cozumel, and was moving to the north west at about 6mph.

Lines snaked to the ticket offices at Cancun airport as planes bound for Canada and Europe waited in pouring rain. Many travellers said they had already planned to leave on Wednesday. In Cancun, 13 flights had already been cancelled, Cancun airport commander Cuauhtemoc Rivera said.

The Mexican government is sending nearly 2,400 electrical workers, cranes, vehicles and generators to repair and maintain services as quickly as possible after the storm. Soldiers, marines and state police had arrived with vehicles in Punta Allen on Tuesday to evacuate about 275 residents and take them to a storm shelter at a middle school; about 500 people are expected to be evacuated there in total, according to Quintana Roo state Civil Defense Director Luis Carlos Rodriguez.

State tourism director Juan Carlos Gonzalez Hernandez said there were about 83,000 tourists in the state, with about 45,000 of those on a stretch of coast south of Cancun that includes Tulum and Playa de Carmen, and almost 28,000 in Cancun. An estimated 10,000 tourists had left by last night, Mr Gonzalez Hernandez said. There were only about 1,719 tourists in Cozumel, and many of them were leaving, he said.

Quintana Roo governor Roberto Borge Angulo ordered the evacuation of all 2,000 residents in Isla Holbox and of 300 tourists staying there.

At least eight cruise ships were changing itineraries away from the storm's path, said Carnival Cruise Lines spokesman Vance Gulliksen.

The projected track shows it curving east towards Cuba and the Straits of Florida by early next week, though the Hurricane Centre warned "there is great uncertainty as to where Rina will be located by the weekend".

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