MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Franklin churned toward the tourist hubs along Mexico’s Caribbean coast on Monday, and is expected to strike the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula just south of major resorts, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Heavy rainfall and flash flooding is possible across the Yucatan and parts of Belize.
Franklin, which formed on Sunday, is located 75 miles (121 km) east of Chetumal, the Mexican city near the country’s border with Belize, and was closing in on making landfall at a speed of 14 miles per hour (23 km per hour).
Officials from five towns along the coast in Quintana Roo state closed schools for Monday and Tuesday, and the Chetumal airport was also shut Monday afternoon.
Franklin is blowing maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (97 kph), and the center of the storm is expected to make landfall late Monday night, cross the peninsula and then reach the Bay of Campeche late Tuesday on the other side, the Miami-based NHC said in an advisory.
Once in the southern Gulf of Mexico, the storm is expected to strengthen and could become a hurricane on Wednesday.
The southern rim of the Gulf is near state oil company Pemex’s major shallow water drilling projects, home to more than 80 percent of the firm’s crude production.
Pemex said the company is closely monitoring the storm, and that all facilities are operating normally.
Franklin is producing tropical storm-strength winds fanning out in a radius of 140 miles (225 km), which would put top beach resort Cancun in the path of the dangerous gusts.
A hurricane watch has been issued from Puerto de Veracruz north to Rio Panuco.
The NHC estimates that rainfall caused by Franklin along a large swatch of the Yucatan Peninsula and Belize will average between 3 to 6 inches (8-15 cm), with as much as 12 inches (30 cm) possible in some areas.
“These rains could produce life-threatening flash floods,” the NHC said it the advisory.
Reporting by David Alire Garcia, Lizbeth Diaz and Ana Isabel Martinez; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Himani Sarkar