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Hurricane Dean sweeps toward oil platforms

Hurricane Dean took aim at the Mexican mainland on Wednesday as the weakened storm battered evacuated oil rigs on the roiling waters of the Bay of Campeche in the heart of Mexico's energy industry.

Dean swept across the Yucatan peninsula Tuesday after making landfall as a ferocious Category 5 hurricane, toppling trees, power lines and houses - but sparing Glitzy resorts on the Mayan Riviera.

Greatly weakened from that overland journey, Dean moved over the Bay of Campeche, home to more than 100 oil platforms, three major oil exporting ports and the Cantarell oil field, Mexico's most productive.

The entire field's operations were shut down just ahead of the storm, reducing daily production by 2.7 million barrels of oil and 2.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

The sprawling, westward storm was projected to slam into the mainland Wednesday afternoon near Laguna Verde, Mexico's only nuclear power plant, which is suspending production.

At 0600 GMT (1 a.m. EDT), Dean was a Category 1 hurricane with winds of 130 kph (80 mph) and was centered about 250 kilometers (155 miles) east-northeast of Veracruz, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It was moving west-northwest at about 31 kph (19 mph).

Torrential rains, battering waves and a storm surge of six to eight feet (1.8 to 2.4 meters) above normal were forecast, with some intensification possible before landfall.

"We often see that when a storm weakens, people let down their guard completely. You shouldn't do that," said Jamie Rhome at the hurricane center. "This storm probably won't become a Category 5 again, but it will still be powerful."

The last tourists departed Tuesday from the beaches of Tecolutla, a getaway on the western Gulf of Mexico where the storm is forecast to hit.

Zbigniew Szadkowski, 50, a physics professor from Lodz, Poland, said he wanted to see a hurricane in action but was leaving anyway with wife Anna, 51.

"I wanted to stay but my wife said no," he said.

Residents boarded up doors and windows on hotels facing the beach, and authorities issues stern warnings for the low-lying coast. "Now is not the time to be enjoying Tecolutla's beaches," town councilor Ricardo Pardinas said.

There were about 100 soldiers in the town who authorities said would be used for security or evacuation if needed. Javier Sanchez, the head of civil protection in Tecolutla, said residents were being encouraged to leave and a forced evacuation was not being ruled out.

President Felipe Calderon said no deaths were immediately reported in Mexico, after Dean killed 13 people as it crossed the Caribbean and plowed into the Yucatan Peninsula on Tuesday.

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