A man carries several personal belongings to an emergency shelter before the arrival of Hurricane Delta. Photo: Jacky Muniello / dpa

Merida awoke to an almost eerie calm Wednesday while the resort areas on the other side of the Peninsula got a thrashing from Hurricane Delta.

With Category 2 force, Delta entered Yucatan state at Tizimín around 7:30 a.m. Alert levels were raised to “orange” on the western side of the state, which includes Merida and Yucatan, and the red-alert one was expanded.

It had sustained winds of 165 km / 102 mph, according to the U.S.-based National Hurricane Center.

Most stores in Merida are shut down and residents are hunkering down to prepare for heavy winds and rain that should start around noon. Light rain began in the Centro by 8:30 this morning. Winds will reach 70 kph / 43 mph with gusts up to 119 kph / 74 mph, nearly hurricane strength.

After Delta passes through the Peninsula toward the Gulf of Mexico, it will hit the Gulf of Mexico early this afternoon between Río Lagartos and Dzilam de Bravo, forecasters believe.

Yucatan Gov. Mauricio Vila Dosal closed down most businesses Tuesday at 6 p.m. and essential businesses such as pharmacies at 10. They will remain closed until further notice, although at least one pharmacy was seen operating this morning near the hotel zone.

The governor oversaw evacuation efforts at El Cuyo, Las Coloradas and San Felipe, the coastal communities in Yucatan thought to be in the most danger. Dzilam de Bravo and Telchac Puerto are on standby for evacuation orders.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador sent 5,000 National Defense crew to the Peninsula to help with safety measures.

Eighteen buses arrived at the Progreso’s main square for voluntary evacuations.

Early today, flooding was reported on the westbound Mérida-Cancun toll road near Valladolid. Power was out in Tizimín and Valladolid, which are close to the storm’s projected path, as well as Cuzamá and Homún in the center of the state.

Landfall in Quintana Roo

Power along the Caribbean coast quickly failed and trees toppled as the Category 2 hurricane made landfall Wednesday morning just south of Cancun. No deaths or injuries were reported as of 9 a.m.

The center of Delta came ashore around 5:30 a.m., sustaining top winds of 110 mph / 175 kmh.

Civil defense official Luís Alberto Ortega Vázquez said about 39,000 people had been evacuated in Quintana Roo and Yucatan, and about 2,700 people had taken refuge in storm shelters in the two states.

Early Wednesday, guests of the Fiesta Americana Condesa hotel awoke in the sweltering classrooms of the Technological Institute of Cancun campus where they had been moved Tuesday, The Associated Press reported.

All of the windows had been covered with plywood so they couldn’t see what was happening, but they said the howling winds started around 2 a.m. and there had been heavy rain. Delta had increased in strength by 80 mph in just 24 hours, and its top winds peaked at 145 mph / 230 kph before it weakened as it neared the shore. Forecasters warned it was still an extremely dangerous storm nevertheless, with a life-threatening storm surge that could raise water levels 9 to 13 feet / 2.7 to 4 meters.

More than 40,000 tourists were in Quintana Roo, a fraction of what would normally be there, officials said.

Delta was forecast to spend several hours lashing the Yucatan Peninsula before moving into the Gulf of Mexico and growing into a “considerably larger” storm before striking the U.S. Gulf Coast. People in Louisiana or Mississippi should prepare now for hurricane-force winds to begin hitting their coastlines on Friday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center advised.

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