CAMPECHE, Mexico (Reuters) - Tropical depression Alex moved into the southwestern Gulf of Mexico, prompting the closure of two key Mexican oil ports and was likely to regain storm status on Monday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
The storm was not an imminent threat to oil-siphoning efforts at BP Plc’s blown-out Macondo well in the Gulf, the U.S. Coast Guard said on Saturday.
But Shell Oil Co shut subsea production at the Auger and Brutus platforms in the Gulf due to the storm threat. On Saturday, it evacuated non-essential workers from production platforms and drilling rigs in U.S.-regulated areas of the Gulf of Mexico oilfields.
The Mexican government kept the ports of Dos Bocas and Cayo Arcas, which handle 80 percent of all its export shipping in the Gulf of Mexico, closed on Sunday afternoon citing bad weather and strong surf in the area.
State-run oil giant Pemex said its platforms in the Campeche Sound were working normally and there was no evacuation plan yet ahead of the arrival of Alex.
“We are on alert but platforms remain working,” a Pemex spokesman told Reuters on Sunday via text message.
Pemex’s “emergency plan for hurricanes is constantly monitoring” systems in the area, he said.
Forecasters expect Alex to return to tropical storm strength on Monday and to make landfall again as a hurricane early on Thursday between Brownsville, Texas, and Tuxpan de Rodriguez Cano in Mexico, sparing BP oil collection efforts.
The hurricane center said there is a good chance Alex could become a major hurricane of Category 3 or higher with winds of at least 111-130 mph.
Alex, the first named storm of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, had sustained winds of 35 mph and was about 55 miles south-southwest of Campeche. The system was moving west-northwest at 9 mph.
Two men drowned in El Salvador after they were swept away by a river swollen with increased rain dumped by Alex, civil protection head Jorge Melendez told reporters on Sunday.
Alex was expected to bring 4 to 8 inches of rain to the Yucatan Peninsula through Monday. Isolated amounts of up to 15 inches were possible over mountainous areas.
In Campeche, skies were partially clouded on Sunday afternoon. Some rivers in the central part of the state had started to swell due to rising precipitation.
But the arrival of Alex did not deter die-hard soccer fans from gathering at bars and restaurants in Campeche to watch the Mexico vs Argentina World Cup match.
Increased rain and higher gusts were already present in Calakmul, a Mayan ruin site close to the Belize border in the southern part of the Campeche state.
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30 and meteorologists predict this year will be a very active one. Hurricanes feed on warm water and the sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic are higher than usual this year.
Additional reporting by Jose Cortazar in Cancun, Nelson Renteria in El Salvador, and Cyntia Barrera Diaz in Mexico City, editing by Vicki Allen and Cynthia Osterman