VILLAHERMOSA, Mexico – Hurricane warnings were posted Monday for a stretch of Gulf coast in southern Texas and northern Mexico as Tropical Storm Alex gained strength and appeared on track to become a hurricane before it makes landfall later this week.
Forecasters said the storm's path could push oil from the huge Gulf oil spill farther inland and disrupt cleanup efforts.
Alex was swirling through the Gulf of Mexico with winds near 65 mph (100 kph) Monday night on a path that would take it very near the Mexico-U.S. border sometime late Wednesday, said the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida. The storm is expected to become a hurricane Tuesday.
Conditions late Monday afternoon led the center to believe the storm will be less powerful than previously predicted but still likely to gain hurricane strength, forecaster Todd Kimberlain said.
Tropical storm-force winds extended up to 70 miles (110 kilometers) from the storm's center, and Alex was moving toward the north near 5 mph (7 kph).
Heavy rains in Mexico's southern Gulf coast state of Tabasco forced the evacuation of about 300 families from communities near the Usumacinta river.
The hurricane warnings extend from Baffin Bay, Texas south across the mouth of the Rio Grande river to La Cruz, Mexico.
The tropical storm's center wasn't expected to approach the area of the oil spill off Louisiana's coast, said Stacy Stewart, senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center. But Alex's outer wind field could push oil from the spill farther inland and hinder operations in the area, Stewart said early Monday.
The hurricane center said Alex is expected to produce 5 to 10 inches of rainfall over portions of northeastern Mexico and southern Texas over the next few days. It warned of a dangerous storm surge along the coast near and to the north of where the storm makes landfall.
Alex caused flooding and mudslides that left at least five people dead in Central America over the weekend, though Belize and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula appeared largely unscathed.
It made landfall in Belize on Saturday night as a tropical storm and weakened into a depression on Sunday as it crossed the Yucatan Peninsula.
Mexico's northern Gulf coast braced for heavy rains, and forecasters said precipitation from Alex would keep falling on southern Mexico and Guatemala until Tuesday, raising the possibility of life-threatening floods and mudslides.
"It is a fact we are going to get very heavy rains," said Gov. Fidel Herrera of the Gulf coast state of Veracruz.
On Sunday, heavy rains prompted a landslide in northwestern Guatemala that dislodged a large rock outcropping, killing two men who had taken shelter from the storm underneath, according to the national disaster-response agency.
In El Salvador, Civil Protection chief Jorge Melendez said three people were swept away by rivers that jumped their banks. About 500 people were evacuated from their homes.
There were no immediate reports of damage to Mexico's resort-studded Caribbean coast.
When Alex became the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, officials immediately worried what effect it could have on efforts to contain the millions of gallons of crude spewing into the northeastern part of the Gulf.
A cap has been placed over the blown-out undersea well, directing some of the oil to a surface ship where it is being collected or burned. Other ships are drilling two relief wells, projected to be done by August, which are considered the best hope to stop the leak.
Alex was centered about 505 miles (810 kms) southeast of Brownsville, Texas, on Monday evening. Its rains could reach Veracruz and the border state of Tamaulipas late Tuesday or Wednesday, the Hurricane Center said.
Associated Press writers David Fischer in Miami and Sofia Mannos in Washington contributed to this report.
TOKYO – Asian stock markets edged higher Tuesday as investors awaited a raft of key indicators including Japan's business confidence survey and U.S. jobs figures later in the week.
Investors were reluctant to chase gains in lackluster Asian trading following a fall on Wall Street Monday. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 5.29 points, or 0.1 percent, to 10,138.52.
Oil prices, meanwhile, were held above $78 a barrel. The dollar fell against the yen and the euro.
Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 stock index gained 55.82 points, or 0.6 percent, to 9,749.76 and South Korea's Kospi rose 0.2 percent to 1,735.82. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.2 percent to 4,420.50.
Elsewhere, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index shed 0.3 percent to 20,666.91. Markets in Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan rose but the Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.2 percent to 2,528.77.
Sentiment was sluggish in Tokyo after government figures showed Japan's factory output declined 0.1 percent in May and the country's unemployment rate climbed to 5.2 percent in May from 5.1 percent in April.
With few fresh leads across Asia, investors were taking a wait-and-see stance ahead of Thursday's release of the Bank of Japan's quarterly "tankan" survey of business sentiment and Friday's U.S. jobs data.
In currencies, the dollar fell to 89.28 yen 89.36 yen in New York late Monday. The euro rose to $1.2283 from $1.2275.
Benchmark crude for August delivery was down 12 cents at $78.13 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
NEW YORK (Reuters) –
Enbridge (ENB.TO) said on Monday that it declared force majeure on its offshore Nautilus natural gas pipeline system after some Gulf of Mexico producers shut in supply as a precaution against Tropical Storm Alex.
Company spokeswoman Terri Larson told Reuters daily gas production approaching 100 million cubic feet was shut in on the 103-mile, 600 mmcfd capacity Nautilus line.
Enbridge was forced to cut some scheduled deliveries starting Monday until further notice, according to a company website posting.
Nonessential personnel were also evacuated from the company's Garden Banks platform offshore Louisiana, and from the Stingray platform, also offshore Louisiana, which is half owned by Enbridge, Larson said.
Tropical Storm Alex moved into the western Caribbean on Monday after crossing Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula over the weekend.
The storm is expected to strengthen into a hurricane by Tuesday, but computer tracking shows the system moving northwest toward the Mexico-Texas coast, well south of key U.S. oil and gas producing and refining facilities.
(Reporting by Jeanine Prezioso)