Hurricane Paul weakens near Mexico; Rafael to miss Bermuda

MEXICO CITY Tue Oct 16, 2012 6:30pm EDT

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Hurricane Paul was weakening rapidly as it neared a sparsely populated area of Mexico's Baja peninsula, while Hurricane Rafael was expected to pass Bermuda in the Atlantic, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said on Tuesday.

Paul, a Category 1 hurricane, churned about 10 miles south of Cabo San Lazaro and was expected to make landfall by Tuesday afternoon, the center said in a public advisory.

The storm was moving north at 15 miles per hour with maximum wind speeds of 75 miles per hour, the center said.

"It is raining very hard, there is a lot of wind. It is not the time to go out," said Margarito Medina, a civil protection official in Comondu, the county where local officials expected the hurricane to make landfall.

Medina said shelters for 4,000 people had been readied in the area, frequented by fishermen and tourists.

The Mexican navy said on Tuesday it had received no requests for help during visits by navy personnel to Cabo San Lucas.

The U.S. center said Paul could cause dangerous coastal waves and possible flash floods.

The Mexican government has maintained a hurricane warning from Santa Fe northward to Punta Abreojos on the country's western Baja peninsula and extended the warning to the eastern coast of Baja from San Evaristo to Mulege, the center said.

The storm is not expected to hit the tourist resort of Los Cabos on the southern tip of the peninsula.

Mexico has no important oil installations along its Pacific coast.

Mexico's Communications and Transportation Ministry said that among the country's major 18 Pacific ports, the only closure was at the port of San Carlos, where a small federal electricity commission installation is located.

The remainder of the Pacific ports, including industrial hub Manzanillo, remained open as of 4 p.m. Tuesday local time.

Earlier on Tuesday afternoon, four smaller ports were closed on both sides of Comondu, where locals fish shrimp, tuna and sardines, added Medina.

Mexico's Baja California state is home to 637,000 residents, according to the country's 2010 census.

In the Atlantic, Hurricane Rafael, a Category 1 hurricane, churned toward Bermuda on Tuesday, but was expected to pass east of the British territory and continue moving over open seas.

Rafael was centered 130 miles south of Bermuda and moving north-northeast at 26 mph. It had top sustained winds of 85 mph (140 mph).

A tropical storm warning is in effect for Bermuda, which was expected to see heavy winds, the center added.

Authorities canceled several international flights as Rafael approached. The Bermuda Weather Service said the storm's center would move approximately 120 miles east of Bermuda later on Tuesday.

(Reporting By Lizbeth Diaz, Michael O'Boyle and David Alire Garcia in Mexico City and Kevin Gray in Miami; Editing by Simon Gardner and Sandra Maler)