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Hurricane Dean batters oil installations

Hurricane Dean is threatening to regain some of the force it unleashed on the Yucatan Peninsula. Now it is closed in on the Mexican mainland, evacuated oil platforms on the Bay of Campeche.

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

Driving rain, poor communications and impassable roads made it difficult to determine how isolated Mayan communities fared in the sparsely populated jungle where Dean made landfall after killing 13 people in the Caribbean.

Greatly weakened from that overland journey, Dean moved across the Bay of Campeche in the southern Gulf of Mexico, 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 0900 GMT (5 a.m. EDT), Dean was a Category 1 hurricane with winds of 130 kph (80 mph) and was centered about 280 kilometers (175 miles) east-southeast of Tuxpan, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It was moving west-northwest at about 32 kph (20 mph).

Torrential rains, battering waves and a storm surge of six to eight feet (1.8 to 2.4 meters) above normal were forecast, and some strengthening was possible over the warm waters of the Gulf 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. Schools were ordered closed across the state of Veracruz.

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

Striking the Yucatan on Tuesday, Dean was the third most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in recorded history.

"It wasn't minutes of terror. It was hours. I wish I was exaggerating, but I'm not," said Catharine Morales, 30, a native of Montreal, Canada, who has lived in Majahual for a year. "The walls felt like they were going to explode."

Morales weathered the storm in her new brick-walled house with her husband and 7-month-old daughter Luna. Dean blew out the windows and pulled pieces from their roof.

But they fared better than most: Hundreds of homes in the Caribbean town of Majahual collapsed as Dean crumpled steel girders, splintered wooden structures and washed away about half of the immense concrete dock that transformed the sleepy fishing village into Mexico's second-busiest cruise ship destination.

The storm surge covered almost the entire town in waist-deep sea water like a giant mirror, said fishermen Jorge Gonzalez, 29. He found refuge in the back room of a beachfront store whose steel security curtains were blown out, and had to help his dog Camilo keep his head above the rising tide.

"There came a moment when I thought this was the end," Gonzalez said.

Little was known about the thousands who rode out the storm in low-lying communities of stick huts.

"I'm really worried the hurricane passed over the Mayan communities, which are the poorest on the Yucatan peninsula," President Calderon said.

The president traveled late Tuesday to some of the hardest-hit areas in southern Quintana Roo state, where he surveyed the damage and talked to some of the hurricane's victims.

Dean's projected path is 400 miles (650 kilometers) south of Texas, where only heavy surf was expected. The space shuttle Endeavour landed a day early Tuesday because of the threat NASA once feared Dean would pose to Mission Control in Houston.

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