Hurricane Jimena Closes In; Erika Forms in Atlantic

Thousands flee Hurricane Jimena; Tropical storm Erika 1,700 miles from Miami.

Sept. 1, 2009 — -- Hurricane Jimena weakened slightly but remained dangerous this afternoon, with the National Hurricane Center showing its track parallel to the coast of Baja California.

Heavy rain and blasting winds pummeled residents and tourists in this vacation resort as dangerous Hurricane Jimena, made landfall in Baja California late Tuesday.

Meanwhile, forecasters reported that Tropical Storm Erika had formed in the Atlantic, with winds of 50 mph. Its track over the next few days would take it north of the Virgin Islands and then Puerto Rico. It is still well out at sea, about 1,700 miles southeast of Miami.

Jimena has weakened to a Category 3 after briefly hitting windspeeds of 155 mph Monday.

Hurricane-force winds extended 45 miles from the eye, and tropical-storm-force winds (75 mph or more) reached 140 miles ahead of it.

"Any poorly constructed buildings with those wind speeds can be totally destroyed," said Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center. "The biggest threat, as always, is anyone that remains in the lowest portions of the land, near the coastline are at risk from drowning obviously from very high waves and potential storm surge a storm like this represents."

Some Afraid to Evacuate

Thousands of tourists fled from the parts of the Mexican coast Jimena was expected to hit. But Mexican authorities said it was difficult to move local residents, many of whom live in poor slums and fear looting if they leave their homes unoccupied, even for a storm as potentially destructive as Jimena.

Police, firefighters and navy personnel drove through shantytowns, trying to persuade about 10,000 people to evacuate shacks made of plastic sheeting, wood, reeds and even blankets.

"For the safety of you and your family, board a vehicle or head to the nearest shelter," firefighter Ricardo Villalobos called through a loudspeaker as his fire truck wound its way through the sand streets of Colonia Obrera, a shantytown in the hurricane's path.

Asked how many people were paying attention, he said, "Not many."

Jose Miguel Leyva, a cab driver, nailed another plastic sheet to his wood-framed shack and said he would stick it out as long as he could.

Hurricane Jimena, Tropical Storm Erika

Turning again to the Atlantic, forecasters said Erika had formed quickly, moving to the west-northwest at about 9 mph. The Hurricane Center shows it still far from the U.S. mainland at the end of the Labor Day weekend, but as is often the case with such a new storm, computer models disagreed on its likely path.

Most showed it following an arc that would have it gradually turning toward the north, making it unlikely to affect the Gulf of Mexico. But it was far to early to say whether it might threaten the Atlantic coast of the U.S. next week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.