Hurricane Jova speeds up near Mexico's Pacific coast

MEXICO CITY Mon Oct 10, 2011 3:08pm EDT

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Hurricane Jova gained speed on Monday as it headed for one of Mexico's busiest cargo ports and popular tourist resorts along the country's beach-lined Pacific coast.

The storm, with top winds reaching 125 miles per hour, was about 220 miles southwest of the port city of Manzanillo at 1800 GMT, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.

According to the center's projections, Jova is expected to make landfall late on Tuesday northwest of Manzanillo near the laid-back resort towns of Melaque and Barra de Navidad, on a stretch of coast dotted with fine beaches.

Already a category three hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity, the center said Jova could strengthen by one rung later on Monday or early Tuesday. It was moving very slowly at just 6 mph, increasing the chance of severe damage once it makes landfall.

"We are feeling a bit of tension because the slow speed could be quite dangerous," an official at the Manzanillo port authority said.

Manzanillo, Mexico's main point of arrival for cargo containers, has been closed since late Sunday and about 13 container ships are stuck in the port.

An official said shipments that were held up because of the lock-down, included 15,000 tonnes of sugar from Colombia, 16,000 tonnes of imported rolled steel and a shipment of iron pellets for domestic use.

Manzanillo handles about 750 containers of cargo a month and ships goods including cars, car parts, cattle, minerals and tequila to Asian and North American markets.

Mexico has issued a hurricane warning for 200 miles of coastline stretching south from Cabo Corrientes below Puerto Vallarta, a popular stop for cruise ships.

Hurricane-force winds were possible within the warning area by Tuesday afternoon. The storm is moving east and is expected to turn toward the northeast on Monday night, the NHC said.

Rainfall of up to 15 inches is forecast in parts of the states of Michoacan, Colima and Jalisco, possibly causing life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

"A dangerous storm surge is expected to produce significant coastal flooding near and to the east of where the center makes landfall," the latest hurricane advisory said.

There was a 50 percent chance of another cyclone forming further south, near the Pacific coast of Guatemala, the center said. Mexico has no major oil installations in the Pacific.

(Writing by Krista Hughes and Elinor Comlay; Editing by Bill Trott)

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