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Rina roars towards tourist resorts

Mexican authorities have set up emergency shelters and cruise ships shifted course as Hurricane Rina strengthened off the Caribbean coast, following a projected track through Cancun and the resort-filled Mayan Riviera, Mexico's most popular tourist destination.

Rina's maximum sustained winds have increased to 110mph, said the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami, Florida, making it a Category 2 storm.

Forecasters predict it will strengthen as it nears the Mexican coast, before rolling over the island of Cozumel, a popular dive spot and cruise-ship port, then along the coast to Cancun.

Authorities decided to evacuate the small, low-lying fishing village of Punta Allen, just south of Tulum, said Quintana Roo state civil defence director Luis Carlos Rodriguez. Soldiers, marines and state police arrived with vehicles in Punta Allen on Tuesday to evacuate about 275 people and take them to a storm shelter at a middle school; about 500 are expected to be evacuated there in total.

The coastal area around Tulum is dotted with Mayan ruins, and further north is Playa del Carmen, another popular spot for international tourists and the departure point for ferries serving Cozumel.

State tourism director Juan Carlos Gonzalez Hernandez said there were about 83,000 tourists in the state, with about 45,000 of those in stretch of coast south of Cancun that includes Tulum and Playa de Carmen, and almost 28,000 in Cancun.

There were only about 1,719 tourists in Cozumel, and many of them were leaving, Mr Gonzalez Hernandez said. "In the case of Cozumel, which could be hit hardest, people are leaving of their own accord and are cutting their reservations short," he said.

Forecasters said Rina was likely to strengthen into a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of about 115mph.

The forecast track shows it curving east toward Cuba by the weekend, but senior hurricane specialist Michael Brennan at the hurricane centre said it could also move towards southern Florida.

The centre said the storm could produce as much as 16ins of rain over at least parts of the eastern Yucatan Peninsula while raising water levels by as much as 5-7ft in places.

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