Ernesto makes landfall in Mexico, weakens to tropical storm

/ Source: NBC News and news services

Ernesto was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm as it churned across Mexico's Yucatan Penninsula on Wednesday, after flooding streets in the port city of Chetumal and sending thousands of residents and tourists into shelters.

However, it was forecast to cross into the Bay of Campeche later on Wednesday and could become a hurricane again over warmer waters, said in a 5:00 a.m. ET bulletin.

The Mexican government issued a hurricane warning for the area from Coatzacoalcos north to Barra de Nautla in the southern Gulf of Mexico, the center said.

State oil company Pemex, which has port facilities and offshore platforms in the the Gulf, said in a news release that it was canceling some training exercises at oil rigs, but all installations were functioning normally.

Carlos Morales, director of Pemex Production and Exploration, told Reuters that oil production has not been affected at all by the hurricane.

The storm had top sustained winds of 80 miles per hour as it landed on the Mexican coast on Tuesday night, the center said in its 2:00 a.m. ET advisory.

Civil Protection officials in the state of Quintana Roo said about 2,300 people were evacuated from Chetumal up the coast to Tulum.

This southern part of the state is known for its scuba diving and eco-tourism attractions.

Rain was also pouring down further north on the resort of Cancun, although people stayed in their homes and hotels there.

Ernesto had been a Category 1 hurricane, the lowest on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.

In Chetumal, the state capital of Quintana Roo, authorities set up 35 shelters, which were filled with a mix of tourists and residents.

Men push a boat ashore as Hurricane Ernesto approaches the southern part of the Yucatan peninsula, in Mahahual August 7, 2012. Ernesto strengthened into a hurricane on Tuesday just hours before making landfall in Mexico. Hurricane warnings were extended northwards to the resort island of Cozumel from Chetumal and include the entire coast of low-lying Belize. REUTERS/Victor Ruiz (MEXICO - Tags: ENVIRONMENT DISASTER)Victor Ruiz / X01862

Patricia Footit, a Canadian tourist who was evacuated from her Mahaual beach-front hotel Tuesday afternoon, said she was enjoying the experience.

"I'm absolutely fine. This is an adventure," said Footit, sitting on a mat on the floor reading a book to pass the time.

"I was just on the beach chilling out when the loudspeaker said we had to evacuate."

Chetumal's working class neighborhood of Lazaro Cardenas was flooded with water, but many residents said they preferred to stay in their cinder block and wood homes.

"This is normal. It is not the first time that a hurricane has come through here," said Carmen Salis, 19, standing outside her house.

Residents, shop keepers and government workers boarded up houses and businesses along the coast.

"These are just precautionary measures," said worker Francisco Velazquez, who led a group of five men wearing raincoats and wielding hammers and nails as they boarded windows at a government office in Chetumal.

Cancun not hit
While the eye of Ernesto did not hit the region's major resort of Cancun, some rain fell in the area, which is packed with local and international visitors this time of the year.

Tourism officials said they were not evacuating any of Cancun's tourist area, but hotel staff advised guests to stay in their rooms in the evening.

Hotel staff had also removed deck chairs, tables and other potential projectiles from the beaches.

Authorities also declared alcohol bans in the towns of Tulum and Felipe Carrillo Puerto and Chetumal airport was closed to all flights from mid-afternoon.

Cancun, some 230 miles to the north of the storm's forecast path, was devastated in 2005 by Hurricane Wilma, the most intense storm ever recorded in the Atlantic.

One cruise ship that was due to dock at Cozumel on Wednesday canceled its visit and another was diverted to Veracruz, in the Gulf of Mexico.