CANCUN, Mexico (AP) – Tropical Storm Rina weakened to a tropical depression Friday after it battered Mexico's Caribbean coast with winds and rain, knocking out power and downing trees in some areas but sparing the resort-studded region the major hurricane that many had feared.
As a tropical depression, it is projected to move out to sea from Mexico's Yucatan coast before turning and drifting south over the Caribbean. Thousands of tourists had left Cancun and the Riviera Maya ahead of the storm's late Thursday arrival, worried by early forecasts that Rina could arrive as a Category 3 hurricane. But it weakened to a tropical storm Thursday before nearing land and then to a depression on Friday.
INTERACTIVE: Track Rina
Rina's maximum sustained winds were down to about 35 mph Friday. They had hit 110 mph at Rina's peak. Additional weakening is forecast in the next two days with the possibility of becoming a mere low-pressure system soon.
There were no immediate reports of injuries, but most businesses remained closed and officials warned people to be cautious. Police said at least one convenience store was looted of liquor overnight in Cancun, where authorities had banned the sale of alcohol during the emergency. A handful of tourists returned to the beaches of Cancun, 55 miles north-northeast from Rina's center late Friday morning. The ferries that connect nearby islands to Cancun resumed their service and the Cancun airport was operating normally.
Playa de Carmen, a resort town across from the island of Cozumel, was left without electricity and streets were largely empty as Rina swept along the coast late Thursday. The Mexican Navy sent boats to Holbox island, off the northeastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, to forcibly remove about 80 people who had balked at leaving the island during an earlier evacuation of about 2,300 people.
Lines snaked from ticket counters in Cancun's crowded airport as airliners heading to Canada and Europe waited in pouring rain. State Tourism Director Juan Carlos Gonzalez Hernandez estimated 10,000 tourists had left by Wednesday night, though thousands of others remained. NASA cut short an undersea laboratory mission near Key Largo, Florida, bringing the crew back to land, and schools were closed in communities along the coast, as were ports. But some decided to ride out the weakened storm. "We would prefer to lie on the beach and get in the ocean, but right now all we can do is walk around and go shopping," said Vera Kohler, a 27-year-old tourist from Frankfurt, Germany, who arrived Wednesday and planned to stay in the area until Sunday.
Domenico Cianni, a retired restaurateur from Vancouver, Canada, said he also prepared for a hurricane by buying extra food and beer and putting shutters on the windows of his rental home. But after hearing Rina had been downgraded to a tropical storm he decided to join tourists at Playa del Carmen's pier.
"We were curious about what's happening. We wanted to be part of the action," Cianni said.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm was likely to keep bringing rains across the region for days. It was centered about 20 miles north of Cancun and was moving to the north-northeast at 4 mph Friday morning, but was expected to double back to the south and move along the coast toward Central America while weakening further.