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Forecasters Fear Chantal Will Hit Populated Areas Of Mexico - 2001-08-21

Tropical Storm Chantal is causing heavy rains and flooding in some areas of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. There is fear the storm could move on to threaten other areas of the country.

Although it never reached hurricane strength, Chantal is bringing much of the hurricane effect to the Yucatan region. Four-meter-high waves are striking beach areas near the Mexican border with Belize. The governor of the state of Quintana Roo has declared a state of emergency as the 100,000 people of the state's capital city, Chetumal, seek shelter from intense rains, flood waters and high winds.

Mexican army units have been helping local civil defense teams in the area. They have moved more than 2,500 people from vulnerable coastal communities to temporary shelters in Chetumal.

Heavy rains have reached as far north as the resort city of Cancun, but there are no reports of serious problems there.

The Mexican National Meteorological Service has warned that Chantal could pose an even bigger threat to populated areas in the hours and days ahead. If the storm passes over the Yucatan peninsula and then gains strength over the Gulf of Mexico, it could reach hurricane status and threaten such Gulf coast states as Tabasco, Campeche and Vera Cruz. Meteorologists say rains spawned by the storm could affect areas far inland, including Mexico City.

Over the past several days, as Chantal moved through the eastern Caribbean, the storm alternated between signs of weakening and strengthening. The storm brought rains to Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, but caused relatively little damage. Based on that, Mexican storm watchers downgraded their warnings until the storm increased its fury and drove straight for the Yucatan coast. Now storm alerts have been issued for several Mexican states.