Hurricane Raymond strengthened to a Category 3 storm early Monday as it swirled menacingly near Mexico's already soaked southern Pacific coast, bringing the threat of heavy and possibly dangerous rains a month after Tropical Storm Manuel caused widespread damage with floods and mudslides.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the newly formed storm had stalled south of Mexico but a general northward drift was expected that would bring the hurricane closer to the coast.
Mexican authorities rushed to deploy emergency crews and said they were considering ordering evacuations of low-lying areas. About 10,000 people already were living away from their homes one month after Manuel inundated homes and left behind drenched hillsides that posed serious landslide risks.
David Korenfeld, head of Mexico's National Water Commission, said officials were pinning their hopes on a cold front moving from the north that could help steer Raymond away from the coast.
"The cold front coming down is what makes it (Raymond) turn to the left, but that is a model," Korenfeld said. "If that cold front comes down more slowly, this tropical storm ... can get closer to the coast."
Forecasters said Raymond's forward movement probably would slow before it approached the coast late Monday or Tuesday, but the storm would then begin to meander. They said that even if it stayed offshore, the storm could drop heavy rain and cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides along the south-central Mexican coast.
"There will be rain for the next 72 hours along the Pacific coast — very heavy rain, torrential rain," Korenfeld said.
Raymond's center was about 125 miles south-southwest of the beach resort of Zihuatanejo and it had maximum sustained winds of 120 mph early Monday.
A hurricane warning was in effect from Tecpan de Galeana, up the coast from Acapulco, north to the port of Lazaro Cardenas. A tropical storm warning was posted from Acapulco to Tecpan.
Authorities in southern Guerrero state, where Manuel caused about 120 deaths from flooding and landslides in September, worried about the threat of heavy rain.
The state government closed seaports, set up 700 emergency shelters and urged residents in risk areas to take precautions. Officials were expected to decide soon whether to order more evacuations, including from low-lying areas of Acapulco that flooded during Manuel.
The state cancelled classes in most coastal communities west of Acapulco, including Zihuatanejo. Schools are often used as emergency shelters in Mexico.
The potential for damage from such rains is high. About 50 dams in the area are still over capacity, and officials began releasing water to make room for expected rainfall.
Some villages high in the mountains of Guerrero were still without electricity and phone service following Manuel.
In Zihuatanejo, near the Ixtapa resort, authorities sent emergency personnel into low-lying areas to warn people to seek safer ground, said Miguel Quiroz, a local Red Cross dispatcher.
In Barra de Potosi, a beach area just outside Zihuatanejo, a light rain began falling Sunday but tourists were largely undisturbed by the storm's proximity.
"We've got bookings coming in, people are coming in," said London native Les Johnson, an employee at the Our House bed and breakfast. "There's people on the beach, it's quite nice ... there's no problem at the moment."