* Tropical storm is strengthening fast over Gulf of Mexico
* Will be close to east Mexico coast late Thurs, early Fri
* Pemex has said oil operations unaffected so far by Karl
CANCUN, Mexico, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Karl picked up power as it moved across the southwestern Gulf of Mexico and was expected to become a hurricane later on Thursday as it headed for the coast of eastern Mexico.
Karl’s maximum winds had increased to near 65 miles (100 km) per hour. “Karl is forecast to become a hurricane later today,” the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
At 8:30 a.m. EST (1230 GMT), the storm was located about 110 miles (180 km) west of Campeche and was on a track that would approach the eastern Mexico coastline late on Thursday or early on Friday.
Mexican state-run oil giant Pemex had not curtailed operations but said it would monitor Karl’s progress as it passed over the Bay of Campeche in the Gulf, where the bulk of Mexico’s 2.55 million barrels per day of oil is produced.
A hurricane watch was in effect for the coast of Mexico from La Cruz southward to Palma Sola.
As Karl dumped rain and brought strong winds to the Yucatan peninsula, hundreds of mostly Mayan villagers were evacuated, civil protection authorities said.
The storm also knocked out power to tens of thousands of people throughout the mainly rural area. Majahual, home to a large cruise ship port, bore the brunt of the storm as it made landfall but no serious damage was reported.
Cancun, a top beach destination for U.S. and European tourists, was untouched by the storm, which was also likely to pass far south of U.S. oil and natural gas platforms in the northern part of the Gulf of Mexico.
IGOR “EXTREMELY DANGEROUS”
Two hurricanes, Igor and Julia, also churned across the Atlantic Ocean but posed no immediate threat to the U.S. mainland or energy interests, projected to eventually die out far from land.
Igor, described by the Miami-based hurricane center as “extremely dangerous,” earlier on Thursday was 955 miles (1,535 km) south southeast of Bermuda with maximum sustained winds of 145 mph (210 kph), making it a dangerous Category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
Igor was on a track that would bring it close to Bermuda late on Sunday and early on Monday and the hurricane center said the British overseas territory, which is an important international insurance industry hub, could expect “significant impacts” from such a large storm.
Bermudan Home Affairs Minister David Burch urged islanders to get ready. “You should be getting prepared now -- if you wait until Saturday evening, it will be too late,” he said.
Julia had weakened to a Category 2 storm, with 105 mph (165 kph) winds. Earlier on Thursday it was located about 875 miles (1,410 km) west-northwest of the Cape Verde Islands and was moving northwest.
The 2010 hurricane season has been more active than average, with 11 named storms so far, including four major hurricanes, but damage has been relatively limited as several storms have fizzled out in the Atlantic Ocean.
The rapid early strengthening of many storms this year near the coast of Africa has pushed them on northwest tracks away from vulnerable areas, experts say.
But with two months left in the hurricane season it is too early to say there will not be another dangerous storm. (Additional reporting by Cyntia Barrera Diaz in Mexico City; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Vicki Allen)
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