Hurricane Stan Hits Mexico's Gulf Coast

Hurricane Stan slammed into Mexico's Gulf coast Tuesday, forcing authorities to close one of the nation's busiest ports and spawning related storms across the region that left at least 66 people dead, most from landslides in El Salvador (search).

Stan, which whipped up maximum sustained winds of 80 mph before weakening to a tropical storm, came ashore along a sparsely populated stretch of coastline south of Veracruz (search), a major port 185 miles east of Mexico City.

The storm's outer bands swiped the city, knocking down trees and flooding low-lying neighborhoods, authorities said. State officials said four people were injured, including a child, but gave no details.

All three of Mexico's Gulf coast crude-oil loading ports were closed Tuesday as a precaution, authorities said, but the shutdowns were not expected to affect oil prices.

Meteorologists said Stan was driving separate storms across Central America and southern Mexico, provoking flooding and landslides. Some 49 people had been killed during two days of flooding in El Salvador, Interior Secretary Rene Figueroa (search) said Tuesday night. Nine people died in Nicaragua, including six people believed to be Ecuadorean migrants killed when their boat ran ashore.

Four deaths were reported in Honduras and three in Guatemala. In Costa Rica, a 36-year-old woman was killed when her home was buried by a landslide early Tuesday.

In Mexico's southern state of Chiapas, a river overflowed its banks and roared through the city of Tapachula, carrying away ramshackle homes of wood and metal.

Chiapas Gov. Pablo Salazar (search) said four people were missing and could have been swept away. He said 600 families had been evacuated from homes around Tapachula, near the Guatemalan border. Three bridges in the area were destroyed by floodwaters.

"Sadly, we know it's going to keep raining," Salazar said.

At Chachalacas beach, 20 miles north of Veracruz, Celestino Criollo struggled amid rising winds and intermittent rains to clear equipment from his beach-side, thatched-roof seafood restaurant.

Criollo said the storm's rapid approach had caught many beach dwellers by surprise.

"We knew it would be strong and the tide high, but we didn't think it would come this quick," he said. "They advised us, but they could have done it sooner."

Rain was falling Tuesday in much of Central America, forcing thousands from their homes. Among those evacuated were residents of San Salvador's Santa Tecla neighborhood, where an earthquake-triggered landslide in January 2001 killed some 500 people.

Officials have worried the mountain running alongside the neighborhood might collapse again with heavy rains or another quake.

Honduras and Mexico offered to send aid to El Salvador, if needed.

In the southern state of Oaxaca (search), also affected by heavy rains and wind, officials opened 950 shelters and were keeping an eye on 80 communities considered to be vulnerable.

In Veracruz, schools canceled classes and officials at a nearby nuclear power plant had readied the facility for the category 1 hurricane's strong winds and rains. Flooding washed out at least one major highway.

Some 38,000 people abandoned their homes statewide and stayed in some of the 2,000 shelters set up all along the coastline.

The closed crude-oil loading ports — Coatzacoalcos, Dos Bocas and Cayo Arcas — handle most of the 1.8 million barrels a day of crude oil exported by state-owned oil monopoly Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex.

Five exploratory oil platforms also were evacuated, but so far the storm had not affected the company's production of 3.4 million barrels a day of crude oil, Mexico's Communications and Transportation Department said. Pemex (search) is the world's third-largest oil producer, and most of its exports are sent to the United States.

Before reaching the Gulf, Stan raced across the Yucatan peninsula on Sunday, buffeting the region with wind and rain, but apparently causing no major damage.