Hurricane Raymond threatens hard-hit Mexican coast

Hurricane Raymond swirled off Mexico's Pacific coast Monday, forcing schools to close and more than 1,000 people to leave their homes in a region reeling from recent deadly floods and landslides.

The southwestern state of Guerrero, which was pummeled by Tropical Storm Manuel in September, closed schools for 35,000 children, shut down seaports and evacuated vulnerable residents, officials said.

Rain has already been drenching the resort of Acapulco since late Sunday, causing water to rise up to the knees in some neighborhoods where 40 people had to leave, just a month after floods trapped tourists there for almost a week.

West of Acapulco, several residents of the small town of Los Cimientos took refuge on the second floor of the elementary school.

"We are afraid that it will take us by surprise, so it was better to come here," said local resident Bernarda Garcia whose town was devastated by Manuel.

Soldiers evacuated some 500 people from Los Cimientos and Tierra Digna, which are part of the Coyuca de Benitez municipality, due to the risk of floods, Mayor Ramiro Avila told AFP.

Another 400 were evacuated from Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo further west while some 100 families were removed from at-risk areas in the municipality of Tecpan de Galeana, officials said.

Threatened by heavy rains, the neighboring state of Michoacan opened 34 shelters and closed schools in four municipalities, said state government secretary Jaime Mares Camarena.

Raymond was stationary after growing into a major hurricane overnight, reaching Category Three strength on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale, the US National Hurricane Center said, warning that the system could strengthen further.

The storm gained some strength in the afternoon, packing maximum sustained winds of 125 miles (205 kilometers) per hour and bringing heavy rain to the south-central coast, threatening to produce large waves and flooding, the center said in its 2100 GMT bulletin.

The hurricane paused some 105 miles (170 kilometers) southwest of Zihuatanejo and 160 miles (255 kilometers) from the resort of Acapulco, both located in Guerrero.

The US forecasters said Raymond could move closer to the coast late Monday and Tuesday before gradually weakening. But it could avoid landfall and slowly move west on Wednesday.

Mexican National Water Commission director David Korenfeld said the hurricane could be pushed westward out to sea if it comes into contact with a cold front.

The region is still recovering from Tropical Storm Manuel, which struck Guerrero in mid-September while another system, Ingrid, slammed the opposite coast almost simultaneously.

The twin storms claimed 157 lives and damaged the homes of 1.7 million people.

Hardest hit was Guerrero, where 101 of the deaths were recorded and a massive landslide buried a mountain village.

The unusual double storm hit occurred during a holiday weekend, leaving thousands of tourists stranded in Acapulco due to closed airports and highways.

In Manuel's aftermath, some 5,000 people are still living in shelters in Guerrero and 5,000 other families may have to be relocated.

The National Water Commission said Raymond could also dump torrential rains in Michoacan and soak several other states, as well as Mexico City.

Korenfeld warned that soil across the region was already saturated with water, increasing the chances of flooding and landslides.

He said Mexico was on its way this year to breaking a record by being hit by eight named tropical storms or hurricanes -- four on each coast.