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Hurricane Emily Leaves Hundreds Homeless

Hurricane Emily (search) ripped roofs off luxury hotels along Mexico's Mayan Riviera, stranded thousands of tourists and left hundreds of local residents homeless Monday, forcing many to remain in crowded, leaky shelters.

Residents of Yucatan Peninsula resorts, including Playa del Carmen (search) and Tulum, began wading through knee-deep flood waters to assess damage under a light drizzle, as the storm barreled west into the Gulf of Mexico.

There were no immediate reports of death or serious injuries on the peninsula, but Emily was expected to regain strength and threaten Mexican oil rigs before slamming into northeast Mexico or southern Texas as early as Tuesday night.

From the port of Tampico to the southern Texas coastline, residents boarded up windows and evacuated low-lying areas. Mexico's state-run oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos (search), or Pemex, evacuated 15,000 oil workers from rigs in the storm's path.

The worst damage on the Yucatan Peninsula (search) was in Puerto Aventuras, where the storm's eye came ashore some 60 miles south of the resort of Cancun and in Tulum, a collection of thatched hut hotels along a secluded strip of beach that is popular with backpackers.

Sitting in the roofless, rain-soaked lobby of the Copacabana Hotel near Puerto Aventuras, Samuel Norrod, of Livingston, Tenn., waited to hear if his travel agent could get flights home for him, his wife and his 13-year-old granddaughter.

They rode out the storm in the hotel's ballroom.

"We could hear the windows smashing out. The wind would get loud, and then it would get soft again. And then, for about 25 minutes, it got real still," Norrod said, describing the calm eye of the hurricane.

Nearby, Remigio Kamul, 21, surveyed the remains of his family's collection of five shacks. Only a brick room remained standing.

"We just want to have a roof over our heads again," he said.

The large family crowded into the brick room during the storm.

"The children were crying," said Kamul's mother, 46-year-old Maria Concepciona. "We were hugging each other. The door was banging in the wind."

Tourists who spent the night in makeshift shelters emerged to try to find ways home. Many went to the Cancun airport, which reopened Monday after closing Sunday afternoon when the storm hit.

"All night long, cold water was pouring in through the holes in the wall," said tourist Graham Brighton, of Leicester, England, one of about 1,000 people who spent the night on thin foam pads lined up on a gymnasium floor in Cancun. "There were just far too many people crammed into one space."

Quintana Roo state officials reported little damage to the ancient pyramids in Tulum or elsewhere, but a team of archaeologists was to inspect sites throughout the state. Tulum's streets were deserted Monday and the village was without electricity, according to officials reached by telephone.

But damage from the hurricane was evident everywhere on the eastern Yucatan's Mayan Riviera, famous for its white-sand beaches and turquoise waters.

Power was knocked out all along the coast. The wind snapped concrete utility poles in two along a half-mile stretch of highway between Playa del Carmen and Cancun to the north. Plate glass windows were shattered on the ground floors of numerous businesses in Playa del Carmen, while residents waded through knee-deep water flooding some streets.

President Vicente Fox visited the island of Cozumel and other affected areas, saying the hurricane "has really allowed us to put to the test the capacities of the country in terms of risk prevention."

"I think we have demonstrated that they are very far-reaching and capable," he added.

About 60,000 tourists were evacuated from Cancun, Tulum, Playa de Carmen and Cozumel, an island just south of Cancun known for its diving.

Emily hit Mexico after sweeping across the Caribbean, causing flooding that killed a family of four in Jamaica but sparing the Cayman Islands major damage.

The hurricane's wind speeds soared to as much as 135 mph, making it a fierce Category 4 storm when it slammed into the Yucatan's east coast Sunday. It weakened to Category 2 as it passed over the peninsula early Monday with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph.

Emily's center eventually churned into the cooler waters north of the peninsula, weakening it further throughout the day. It was a Category 1 storm by evening, with sustained winds near 75 mph. Forecasters expected it to regain force and hit the northeastern Mexican coast "as a major hurricane," as early as Tuesday night, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.

A hurricane warning was in effect Monday night from south of the Mexico-Texas border to the community of La Cruz.

In Texas, many tourists on South Padre Island started packing up Monday, although about 10,000 remained, officials said. A steady stream of RVs headed north from the island resort after a local judge ordered vehicles in danger of being blown over by high winds to leave county parks on the island.

Mexico's two main crude oil loading ports in the Gulf, Dos Bocas and Cayo Arcas, were closed and Pemex evacuated its Bay of Campeche oil rigs, shutting down offshore production as the hurricane approached.

Pemex's offshore operations in the area account for about two-thirds of the company's 3.4 million barrels a day of crude oil production.

The company reported Sunday that one of 26 helicopters being used for the evacuation crashed while trying to land on a platform in high winds, killing the pilot and co-pilot.