Storm Ingrid near hurricane strength off Mexico's Gulf coast

MEXICO CITY, Sept 14 Sat Sep 14, 2013 2:28pm EDT

MEXICO CITY, Sept 14 (Reuters) - Tropical storm Ingrid strengthened off Mexico's Gulf coast on Saturday, reaching close to hurricane-force winds and lashing heavy rains across eastern Veracruz state.

Ingrid, packing winds of 70 miles per hour (110 km per hour), is expected to become a hurricane later on Saturday afternoon, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

The storm was 195 miles (310 km) east of the port of Tuxpan in Veracruz at 1800 GMT and although Tuxpan port was closed, Mexico's major oil installations in the Gulf were operating normally, said a spokesman for Mexico's state oil monopoly Pemex .

One of Mexico's three major oil-exporting ports was also closed, but most of the country's Gulf-coast ports remained open on Saturday as the storm approached.

Emergency services in Veracruz state were preparing shelters in case of flooding, but at midday the shelters were empty, a spokesman said.

A hurricane watch was in effect for a stretch of Veracruz's northern coastline, the NHC said.

Landfall was expected on Monday morning for Ingrid, the ninth storm of the Atlantic hurricane season.

The storm was expected to dump between 10 inches (25 cm) and 25 inches (63 cm) of rainfall over a large part of eastern Mexico, which could cause rivers to swell and provoke flash floods and mud slides, according to the NHC.

Separately, tropical storm warnings are in effect on the Pacific Coast of Mexico from Acapulco to Manzanillo, where tropical storm Manuel is churning about 105 miles (170 km) from the coast.

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