Oil and Gas

UPDATE 5-Hurricane Ida strengthens, 42 dead in El Salvador

* Floods, mudslides from rains kill 42 in El Salvador

* Ida could strengthen into a Category 2 hurricane

* Forecast to enter oil-producing Gulf of Mexico on Sunday (Adds details on coastal evacuations, conditions in Cancun)

CANCUN, Mexico, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Hurricane Ida intensified off the Mexican resort of Cancun on Sunday and aimed for the Gulf of Mexico as the storm’s heavy rains killed at least 42 people in El Salvador.

El Salvador’s interior minister said more victims were expected to be found as rescue workers moved into areas cut off by flooding and mudslides in the Central American nation.

Ida reached hurricane status again late on Saturday, with sustained winds of near 90 mph (145 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in its 9 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) advisory.

The storm was poised to swing past Cancun and enter the Gulf of Mexico later on Sunday.

Ida could strengthen to Category 2 status on the five step Safir-Simpson intensity scale before starting to weaken on Monday as it churns towards oil and gas production facilities in the central Gulf of Mexico, the Miami-based hurricane center said.

The Mexican government urged people to avoid unnecessary travel in the Yucatan Peninsula and imposed restrictions on coastal shipping.

Approximately 1,000 people were evacuated from Holbox island northwest of Cancun, an isolated fishing community and sanctuary for thousands of flamingos and other exotic birds.

In Cancun, the sky was cloudy and a light rain fell but the airport remained open and there were no plans to evacuate the approximately 12,000 people visiting the famous resort popular with American tourists.

The hurricane center set a hurricane watch from Grand Isle, Louisiana to the border between Mississippi and Alabama. The watch did not include the city of New Orleans. A hurricane watch means hurricane conditions are expected in the area within 36 hours.

Energy companies active in the Gulf of Mexico, including Mexico’s state oil monopoly, Pemex [PEMX.UL], are actively monitoring the storm but have not yet evacuated any production platforms or curtailed output of oil and gas.

The Gulf of Mexico accounts for a quarter of U.S. domestic oil production and 15 percent of natural gas output. The Gulf Coast is also home to 40 percent of the nation’s refining capacity.

As of 9 a.m. EST (1500 GMT), the center of Ida was 75 miles (120 km) northeast of the Caribbean resort island of Cozumel, Mexico, and about 80 miles (125 km) west-southwest of the western tip of Cuba, the hurricane center said.

It was moving northwest near 10 mph (16 kph) and was forecast to turn toward the north over the next two days.

Ida first became a hurricane on Thursday off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua before weakening over that country. It strengthened again on Saturday.

The storm’s heavy rains forced more than 5,000 people into shelters in Nicaragua but there were no reports of fatalities.

The country’s coffee crop was not directly affected by the storm, according to the local coffee council. (Reporting by Michael O’Boyle and Jose Cortazar in Cancun, Nelson Renteria in San Salvador and Ivan Castro in Managua; Writing by Robert Campbell; Editing by Will Dunham and Chris Wilson)