VERACRUZ, Mexico – Mexico shut down its only nuclear power plant and its central Gulf Coast oil platforms Friday as Hurricane Karl thrashed the port city of Veracruz with 100 mph (160 kph) winds, and waves topped 16 feet (5 meters) in some beach towns.
The National Weather Service said Karl remained a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 120 mph (195 kph) and it was not likely to strengthen before its center makes landfall around midday just south of the Laguna Verde power plant, Mexico's largest, between the port of Veracruz and the oil hub of Poza Rica.
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Its outer bands had reached the port of Veracruz by midday Friday, knocking out power in some areas and tearing out palm trees. The waves had already swept away seaside food huts along Veracruz's beach.
Gov. Fidel Herrera said the storm could be the state's worst in 50 years.
While the storm is expected to weaken as it moves inland, the capital city, Jalapa, prepared for what Mayor David Velasco Chedraui predicted would still be a Category 1 hurricane by the time it reaches the city 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the coast.
It was expected to slog across central Mexico, drenching Mexico City, after dumping heavy rain into the mountainous, flood-prone region of Veracruz where a storm killed more than 300 people in 1999, most in landslides.
"The hurricane is following a course that will also impact the mountain areas," Herrera said. "We are releasing more water from the reservoirs, which could be overwhelmed by the rain."
State-owned Petroleos Mexicanos closed 14 production wells in the northern part of the state and evacuated workers from some oil platforms, the company said in a statement late Thursday.
Workers also were evacuated from the Laguna Verde plant, which was shut down, along with residents in the nearby town of Farallon and in coastal towns of Cardel and Palma Sola, where a resident reported 20 families trapped by flooding.
"We asked for help because right now we have no way to get out, said Palma Sola resident Agustin Tlapa. "We're totally flooded."
Flights were canceled into Veracruz city were shut down.
Authorities in Veracruz state — whose southern half has suffered severe flooding over the past few weeks — preparing sleeping mats, bottled water and other supplies for anyone taking refuge in shelters.
About 80,000 people have had their homes damaged and nine people have been killed in flooding from heavy rains in southern Veracruz since Aug. 19. Officials expressed concern Karl could raise river levels again, just as some residents are thinking of returning to their homes.
In the beach town of Tecolutla, just south of Poza Rica, fishermen and operators of small tour boats began pulling their craft out of the water.
Some people boarded up windows with sheets of plywood, lashed down cooking gas tanks and reinforced doors and signs to prevent them from being blow away by the hurricane's wind, said Tecolutla's civil defense director, Edilberto Peralta.
"We are getting ready and warning people early, to avoid any loss of human life," said Peralta, whose town of about 25,000 people was lashed by Hurricane Dean in 2007 and severely flooded by a tropical depression in 1999. "We are ready to take drastic measures."
He said officials were considering whether any residents needed to evacuate their homes.
The port of Tuxpan was closed to small craft Thursday, and Port Capt. Gaspar Cime said larger vessels would be banned later in the day. Tuxpan has about 135,000 people.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Igor's top winds weakened Friday to 120 mph (195 kph) on a track that could take it over Bermuda y Monday. The government of Bermuda issued a hurricane watch.
Farther east over the Atlantic, Hurricane Julia strengthened slightly early Friday, though remained a Category 1 storm with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph).
Karl could cause storm surges of 6 to 9 feet (2 to 3 meters) and "large and destructive waves," as well as dump up to 15 inches (40 centimeters) of rain in some areas of Veracruz state, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in a statement.
As a tropical storm, Karl hit Yucatan on Wednesday, downing tree limbs and causing power outages. The storm made landfall on the Mexican Caribbean coast about midway between the cruise ship port of Majahual and the coastal town of Xcalak.
Associated Press Writer E. Eduardo Castillo in Mexico City contributed to this report.