By Diego Oré
MEXICO CITY, Aug 21 (Reuters) – After hitting eastern Mexico with torrential rains and powerful winds, Hurricane Grace degraded Saturday morning to a tropical storm, authorities said, although it was still dumping heavy rains as it continued its path toward the populous center of the country.
Early Saturday morning, Grace, one of the most powerful storms in years to hit the Gulf of Mexico coast, made landfall as a powerful Category 3 hurricane in Veracruz, causing power outages and tree felling. After entering the country, it was downgraded to category 1.
At 10:00 local time (1500 GMT), Grace was located about 40 kilometers north-northeast of the capital, Mexico City, and was blowing maximum sustained winds of 110 kilometers per hour (km / h), with stronger gusts, while continuing to advance west-southwest at 20 km / h, according to data from the United States National Hurricane Center (NHC).
“Grace is rapidly weakening on land, but still causes very heavy rain and flooding over portions of eastern central Mexico,” the NHC said.
Half a million users were left without power after Grace passed through the central-western states of Veracruz, Hidalgo, Puebla and San Luis Potosí, the state Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) reported.
Local authorities urged the population to take shelter in their homes or shelters set up in higher parts as the storm approached the metropolitan area of the Valley of Mexico, made up of the capital and dozens of adjacent municipalities that are home to more than 22 million population.
Bad weather forced the cancellation of several flights in the cities affected by Grace, including to or from Miami, the Mexico City international airport reported.
After crossing the Caribbean, the cyclone became a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale for the first time early Thursday before making landfall on the touristy Mexican Caribbean coast. Later, it was temporarily downgraded to a tropical storm and entered the Gulf of Mexico.
So far, Grace has not caused deaths in the country, although it temporarily left about 700,000 people without power in the touristy Yucatan Peninsula, where it also caused flooding, falling trees and detachment of roofs.
After crossing the country, meteorologists hope Grace will reach the Pacific Ocean on Sunday, where she would regain strength.
(Additional reporting by Tamara Corro in Tecolutla, Mexico)