Marco Ugarte, Associated Press
PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico — Hurricane Rina weakened to a tropical storm Thursday after many tourists had already abandoned Cancun and other Caribbean resorts ahead of what once threatened to be a Category 3 storm.
Rina was forecast to be near or over Mexico's most popular tourist destinations of Cancun, Cozumel and the Riviera Maya later Thursday or early Friday before curving back out to sea. Additional weakening is forecast in the next 48 hours and Rina could become a tropical depression on Saturday.
Mexico's government discontinued its tropical storm warning for the Yucatan Peninsula south of Punta Gruesa, but a warning remained in effect to the north.
In Playa del Carmen, tourists and residents strolled along the promenade and the beach Thursday under cloudy but not-yet-rainy weather. At the beach, lifeguards were placing red flags warning people not to swim.
"We would prefer to lie on the beach and get in the ocean, but right now all we can do is walk around and go shopping," said Vera Kohler, a 27-year-old tourist from Frankfurt, Germany, who arrived Wednesday and planned to stay in the area until Sunday.
Authorities had been preparing to face hurricane conditions.
Domenico Cianni, a retired restaurateur from Vancouver, Canada, said he also prepared for a hurricane by buying extra food and beer and putting shutters on the windows of his rental home. But after hearing Rina had been downgraded to a tropical storm he decided to join tourists in Playa del Carmen's pier.
"We were curious about what's happening. We wanted to be part of the action," Cianni said.
Civil protection officials moved some 2,300 people from Holbox, an island where the Caribbean meets the Gulf of Mexico, and the federal government closed the archaeological sites that dot the coast. NASA cut short an undersea laboratory mission near Key Largo, Florida, bringing the crew back to land.
Schools were ordered closed in communities along the coast and on Cozumel in anticipation of the storm.
Ports also closed to navigation for recreational, fishing and small boats in the state of Quintana Roo, home to Cancun, and neighboring Yucatan state, while the island of Cozumel was closed to larger vessels, including the ferry that connects the island and Playa del Carmen.
At least eight cruise ships changed itineraries away from the storm's path.
Lines snaked from ticket counters in Cancun's crowded airport Wednesday as jumbo airliners heading to Canada and Europe waited in pouring rain.
State Tourism Director Juan Carlos Gonzalez Hernandez estimated 10,000 tourists had left by Wednesday night. There were only about 1,719 tourists on Cozumel, and many of them had left, he said. Many flights were canceled out of Cancun Thursday.
Rina's maximum sustained winds were down to 70 mph (110 kph) early Thursday, down from 75 mph (120 kph) earlier in the day. It was about 90 miles (145 kilometers) south of the island of Cozumel and was moving northwest at about 6 mph (9 kph).
A tropical storm warning was in effect for the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula from Chetumal to Progreso.
Mexico's government said it was sending nearly 2,400 electrical workers plus cranes, vehicles and generators to repair and maintain services as quickly as possible after the storm.
Associated Press writer Gabriel Alcocer in Cancun contributed to this report.
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