CANCÚN: Hurricane Grace grounded flights and forced tourists to spend the night in shelters on Mexico’s Caribbean coastline before weakening to a tropical storm on Thursday as it moved inland.

Grace made landfall before dawn as a Category One hurricane — the lowest on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale — on the Yucatan Peninsula near the town of Tulum, famed for its Mayan temples.

It lost strength as it churned across the peninsula and was clocking maximum sustained winds of 95 km/h at 1800 GMT (2:00 am Malaysian Time), the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami said.

On Wednesday, as the hurricane approached Mexico, more than 100 flights to or from the major resort of Cancun were cancelled.

In total, more than 6,000 tourists and residents were evacuated to storm shelters across the southeastern state of Quintana Roo, according to local authorities.

The storm passed the Riviera Maya coastline without any loss of life, said Quintana Roo governor Carlos Joaquin.

Cancun airport resumed operations on Thursday but ports remained closed, Joaquin said on Twitter.

Workers were seen clearing up fallen branches and other debris in Tulum but the town — like other tourist resorts along the Caribbean coast — escaped major damage.

“The scare is over and luckily everything turned out OK,“ said Sandra Rodriguez, a 39-year-old Argentinian tourist visiting Cancun.

Rodriguez admitted she had been worried because she was not used to such storms.

“I thought the hurricane was going to drown us,“ she said jokingly.

- Blackouts, minor damage -

Electricity was cut off, affecting almost 150,000 people, but as soon as the storm passes, repairs would be carried out to restore supply, Joaquin said.

Cancun’s hotel zone was largely deserted at dawn as intense wind and rain caused some damage to structures on the beach, which was pounded by strong waves.

In the neighboring state of Yucatan, the storm toppled trees in the city of Valladolid and damaged some of the less sturdy buildings, according to images released by local authorities.

After it crosses the Yucatan, the storm is expected to move over the southwest Gulf of Mexico before hitting the eastern state of Veracruz, where a hurricane warning was in effect.

“Re-intensification is likely after the center reaches the Gulf of Mexico,“ the NHC said.

“Grace is forecast to be a hurricane when it makes its second landfall on the mainland coast of Mexico late Friday or early Saturday. Rapid weakening is expected after Grace moves inland over central Mexico,“ it predicted.

- ‘Destructive waves’ -

Gusty winds and heavy rains would continue to buffet the Yucatan Peninsula on Thursday, forecasters said.

“Heavy rainfall from Grace will likely result in areas of flash and urban flooding, and will also be capable of producing mudslides,“ the NHC added.

The storm surge will be accompanied by “large and destructive waves” near the coast, it warned.

On Wednesday, businesses on the Riviera Maya had boarded up windows, while fishermen and tour operators hauled their boats onto land in preparation for the storm’s arrival.

Authorities in Quintana Roo had declared a red alert and opened 85 shelters for people who needed refuge from the storm. — AFP

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