Hurricane Otis sparks flooding in western Mexico; likely to come ashore in little-populated area

More than 1,000 people fled their homes and stiff rains sparked flooding along main streets of this resort city Saturday, as Hurricane Otis swirled off the coast of western Mexico.

The Category 1 hurricane weakened a bit, but still packing 85 mph (160 kph) winds as it crawled north about 140 miles (230 kilometers) west of the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula. Rains and heavy winds from its outer bands lashed the area.

Forecasters expected Otis to skirt past Cabo San Lucas, and move ashore along a sparsely populated stretch of desert far north of here as early as Sunday evening, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Narciso Agundez, governor of Baja California Sur state, ordered emergency personnel to the community of Comondu, as well as tourist-friendly Lorteo and Mulege, closer to where the center of Otis was likely to hit land. He asked soldiers to help evacuate the Islands of Magdalena and Margarita, off the coast of Comondu.

Periods of strong winds and heavy rains were mixed with mostly sunny skies over Cabo San Lucas, and many residents remained calm, avoiding panic buying with the knowledge that Otis was likely to stay out to sea until it was well past this area.

Things were normal around the hotel zones, but Mayor Luis Armando Diaz led voluntary evacuations that removed families on the city's poor outskirts from homes, many of which were little more than wood and metal shacks.

Civil protection authorities said nearly 700 families gathered in schools and other government buildings used as shelters in Cabo San Lucas and that there were more than 200 families evacuated in San Jose del Cabo, a nearby tourist destination to the northeast. There were also small-scale evacuations in Miraflores and Santiago, slightly further north.

Mexico declared a state of emergency to help cope with heavy rains in five communities, including Cabo San Lucas and Loreto, which is located about four hours north by car from here.

A hurricane warning was in effect for much of the peninsula's Pacific Coast, from Agua Blanca north to Puerto San Andresito and officials issued a tropical storm watch further northward.

The area likely to be most-affected by Otis, central Baja California, is mostly a vast stretch of sun-scorched territory where few people live. Extended forecasts showed the storm weakening as it moved across the peninsula and bringing rains to parts of western Texas and southern Arizona by early next week, however.

Otis was the 15th Pacific storm of the season. Unlike powerful Atlantic storms such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Pacific hurricanes tend to do less damage because they make landfall less-frequently.

Like their counterparts in the Atlantic, Pacific storms are given names that correspond to the alphabet, starting with the letter a.

Also on Saturday, the season's 20th tropical depression was drifting toward Mexico in the western Caribbean, prompting the government to issue tropical storm warnings for the Yucatan Peninsula.

The depression was centered 95 miles (195 kilometers) east of Tulum and about 95 miles (150 kilometers) southeast of Cozumel, according to the U.S. hurricane center. It was moving west at 6 mph.

The system had sustained winds of 30 mph (48 kph), but could become a named tropical storm before making its expected landfall on the eastern Yucatan later Saturday or Sunday, according to the center.

A tropical storm warning was issued in the Yucatan from Punta Gruesa north to Cabo Catoche, while a tropical storm watch was issued from Cabo Catoche west to Campeche, AP reported.

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