Hurricane Otis continues to strength as it moves toward Baja peninsula

Officials removed a few dozen people from their homes during voluntary evacuations in low-lying areas of this western resort city Friday, as Hurricane Otis moved closer to a sparsely populated stretch of Baja California.

Things were quiet in glitzy hotel zones, where tourists continued to splash around in cavernous swimming pools under skies that were mostly sunny, with intermittent bouts of rain.

But on the outskirts of town _ where many service industry employees live with their families in poverty _ officials were bracing for heavy winds and driving downpours associated with Otis that could spark flash flooding.

Mayor Luis Armando Diaz led a contingent of police officers going door to door and asking residents to leave homes that sometimes consisted of simple wood and corrugated metal shacks. It was unclear how bad the weather would have to deteriorate in order for evacuations to become mandatory.

Authorities opened 14 shelters to accommodate evacuees and Diaz said he expected as many as 1,000 people to head for higher ground by late Friday night, amid increased fears as the storm approached land. "We are going to get a lot of rain and its better to prevent potential problems," the mayor said. "That's why we have begun evacuations."

Otis had maximum sustained winds of about 85 mph (140 kph) and was about 120 miles (195 kilometers) southwest of the nearby city of Los Cabos, at the tip of the peninsula, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

The storm slowed down a bit Friday night, but was growing and the center said it could become a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 154 kph (96 mph) or above by Saturday. It was moving at 7 mph (11 kph).

It was expected to remain out to sea, missing Cabo, but eventually heading inland several hundred miles (kilometers) to the north on Monday.

"The core of the hurricane should stay off shore until much further up the coast from Cabo," said Jack Beven, a hurricane specialist at the center. Few people live in the vast deserts of central Baja, south of the bustling port city of Ensenada and north of Cabo San Lucas. It was there that Otis' core was likely to move ashore.

Extended forecasts had the hurricane bringing rain to parts of the southwestern United States by early next week, however. A tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch were in effect for the Pacific coast of the Baja peninsula from Bahia Magdalena southward to Cabo San Lucas.

This resort's port was closed and while the airport remained open, few visitors chose to leave the area as Otis approached, officials said. The streets were mostly deserted, but some groups of intrepid tourists could still be seen out and about.

Otis was the 15th Pacific storm of the season. Pacific storms are given names that correspond to the alphabet, starting with the letter a, though those names are dolled out independently of named storms in the Atlantic. Unlike powerful Atlantic storms such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Pacific hurricanes tend to do less damage because they make landfall less-frequently, AP reports.

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