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Mexico Orders Evacuation of Over 10,000 People in Hurricane Dean's Path

More than 10,000 people have been ordered Wednesday to leave coastal areas along the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico that are threatened by Hurricane Dean. In Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports that forecasters are warning of possible flooding and mudslides.

Mexican officials say they have evacuated thousands of residents from coastal areas in central Mexico laying in the path of Hurricane Dean. Emergency crews were transporting residents to schools, churches and other buildings that would offer protection against strong winds and possible flooding when the hurricane hits.

Dennis Feltgen, forecaster for the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said Dean gained strength early Wednesday from the warm waters of the Bay of Campeche. He said it was expected to remain a Category 2 hurricane with maximum winds of 160 kilometers per hour until it weakened over land.

"There will be storm surge flooding of six to eight feet [nearly two meters] above tide levels near and to the north of where the center makes landfall. In addition, there is going to be storm totals of five to 10 inches [12 to 25 centimeters] over parts of southern and central Mexico. That is a lot of rain," explained Feltgen.

Forecasters say heavy rainfall could trigger flash floods and mudslides as the hurricane moves west across mainland Mexico.

Earlier, Dean moved through a key oil field in the southern Gulf of Mexico, where Mexican oil companies were forced to evacuate crews and shut down at least 100 oil rigs. The shutdown meant a loss of 2.7 million barrels of oil in daily production for Mexican companies, which are a key supplier to the United States.

Mexican officials have reported no casualties so far from Hurricane Dean, after the eye of the storm crossed the Yucatan peninsula Tuesday. At least 12 people were killed earlier by the storm when it hit Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Haiti and the island of Dominica.

The U.S. Agency for International Development said it has officials in Jamaica, Mexico and Belize to help coordinate emergency operations with local governments. A top USAID official said Tuesday that $125,000 had been provided to Jamaica for emergency needs, and the Pan-American Health Organization was to receive $150,000 for aid efforts.