CHETUMAL, Mexico - Ernesto spun inland over Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula early Wednesday while hundreds of fishermen who fled low-lying villages for shelters and tourists evacuated from resorts to inland hotels hunkered down for a stormy night.
Ernesto hit the peninsula as a hurricane with sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph) when it swept over the shore town of Mahuahal shortly before midnight Tuesday and moved into a sparsely populated coastal region, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It had weakened to a tropical storm by early Wednesday with winds near 70 mph (110 kph), but was expected to regain hurricane strength when its centered emerged over the Bay of Campeche.
The storm was moving west at 15 mph (24 kph).
There were no early reports of damage, but it might be morning before officials could assess whether Ernesto's rain and wind caused problems.
Chetumal, the capital of Quintana Roo state, was the closest city and officials moved more than 1,300 tourists there from resorts in Mahuahal, Balacar and other coastal spots that were expected to see heavier rain and wind.
In the city of Tulum to the north, some 6,000 tourists sheltered in hotels away from the beach, and authorities said the buildings were strong enough to qualify as storm shelters.
Luana Antonicelli, a 23-year-old tourist from Melbourne, Australia, traveling with her 20-year-old brother, said they left their beachfront cabana surrounded by tropical jungle and decided to spend the night at the Hotel Tulum, a 20-room, one-story building about two miles (three kilometers) inland.
"The people at our hotel told us to come into town because it's too dangerous to stay there," Antonicelli said.
She said most people at the Hotel Tulum were hunkering down inside their rooms even though it was only raining lightly Tuesday night. Hotel workers were distributing candles but the hotel still had electricity.
"It's a bit annoying because I want to be on the beach, but these things happen," Antonicelli said, adding that she and her brother decided to stay outdoors as much as possible. "I see it as an adventure."
Authorities also prepared two kindergartens in Tulum as shelters for up to 220 people, but only 20 people had showed up by Tuesday afternoon at one.
Cruz Garcia, a tourist guide, came to the shelter with his wife from Punta Allen, a low-lying coastal settlement.
"To be over there is a risk because the tide rises and there could be a disaster," Garcia said, adding that he twice went through strong hurricanes while living in the neighboring state of Campeche.
Soldiers and police evacuated all residents of Punta Allen, and authorities were preparing for the evacuation of people from other low-lying coastal settlements, said Luis Gamboa of Quintana Roo's Civil Protection office.
Two cruises ships scheduled to dock on the Riviera Maya put off their arrival.
The storm's path kept to the south of the big resort areas of Cancun and the Riviera Maya, but officials prepared shelters there as a precaution.
Forecasters said Ernesto was expected to cross Yucatan by Wednesday evening and enter the southern Gulf of Mexico in an area dotted with offshore oil platforms owned by the state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos.
Its predicted course would then take it to Mexico's Gulf coast near the city of Veracruz, and the U.S. hurricane center said it might become a hurricane again just before reaching there around Thursday evening.
On its way to Yucatan, the storm swirled over open sea parallel to Honduras' northern coast, but officials there said the storm hadn't caused damage or injuries.
Mexican authorities warned of possible flooding in some of the region threatened by Ernesto, where swollen rivers in the past have swept away houses, livestock and people and collapsed mountainsides.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Gilma neared hurricane strength in the Pacific Ocean about 645 miles (1,040 kilometers) southwest of the southern tip of Mexico's Baja California, with winds near 70 mph (110 kph). The storm was not expected to threaten land.
Associated Press writers Antonio Villegas in Tabasco, Mexico; Alberto Arce in Tegucigalpa, Honduras; and Luis Galeano in Managua, Nicaragua, contributed to this report.