Blackout hits Mexico's Cancun after Hurricane Delta roars ashore

A damaged plaza after Hurricane Delta hit in Cancun, Mexico, on Oct 7, 2020.
A damaged plaza after Hurricane Delta hit in Cancun, Mexico, on Oct 7, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

CANCUN, MEXICO (BLOOMBERG) - Hurricane Delta barrelled ashore in Mexico, slamming the resort areas of Cancun and Cozumel with strong winds and dangerous storm surge, and threatening to inflict as much as US$7 billion (S$9.5 billion) in damage and losses.

Delta threatens to become the latest in a string of deadly natural disasters in 2020, a year that has been marked by a hyperactive hurricane season, devastating wildfires and a derecho that wreaked havoc across the US Midwest. They are further evidence that the Earth's climate is changing, bringing hotter temperatures, stronger storms and more widespread destruction.

Though Delta has weakened to a Category 2 hurricane, its winds can still uproot trees, wreck well-built homes and trigger blackouts lasting weeks. Delta came ashore near Puerto Morelos, along the north-eastern coast of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.

After hitting Mexico, the hurricane is forecast to churn through the energy-producing region of the Gulf before likely pummelling Louisiana, which has been struck twice already this year, on Friday (Oct 9).

It will be the record 10th tropical storm or hurricane to hit the United States in a year.

The Atlantic has spawned 25 storms this year, the second most on record after 2005, when deadly Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans. So many have formed that the hurricane centre has used up all the names on its official list and has resorted to the Greek alphabet to designate systems.

Delta's loss in power has cut damage estimates for the resort areas of Cancun and Cozumel, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeller with Enki Research. The storm will likely cause about US$7 billion in losses and destruction to the region, much less than earlier estimates, but "still a huge mess and a lot of damage".

Hurricane Delta knocked out power in much of the resort cities of Cancun and Cozumel when it barrelled ashore with winds of 177kmh, a local official said.

No deaths have been reported, and damage has been minor, civil protection official Luis Alberto Ortega said on Wednesday.

More than 39,000 people have been evacuated in the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan. About 2,700 people are in shelters.

Hurricane Delta's winds weakened to 169kmh as it crossed the Yucatan Peninsula just west of Cancun, according to the National Hurricane Centre. It is still a Category 2 hurricane, expected to bring up to 3m of storm surge.

The storm is forecast to re-strengthen when it moves over the southern Gulf of Mexico Wednesday night into Thursday, and could become a Category 4 hurricane again by late Thursday.

Delta will make its way across the Yucatan Peninsula before entering the Gulf of Mexico later Wednesday, said Paul Walker, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. Once the storm gets over the warm water, it will start to re-strengthen and expand.It will likely be a Category 3 hurricane as it approaches the US Gulf Coast, probably in south-west Louisiana, late Friday, Walker said.

Delta's growth will probably boost the threat of storm surge along the coast, and as much as 30cm of rain could fall as it moves ashore."Surge is going to be my biggest concern," Walker said. "It looks like a major storm as it comes in."

Just barely within Delta's projected track is Sempra Energy's Cameron liquefied natural gas terminal, which was shut by Hurricane Laura in late August and just resumed exports on Monday.

A flurry of hurricanes this year have forced multiple LNG plants on the Gulf Coast to temporarily close, adding to a glut in the US while tightening global supplies and pushing spot rates in Europe and Asia higher.

Even if Delta does not deal a direct blow to the plants, the storm could temporarily disrupt tankers trying to ferry LNG from them.

Cheniere Energy's Sabine Pass, the largest American LNG export terminal, is also barely within range of the hurricane's path.

Gulf of Mexico operators shut 540,495 barrels a day of oil production ahead of Hurricane Delta, or 29 per cent of the region's output, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said in a notice.

About 233 million cubic feet a day, or 8.6 per cent, of natural gas production was also shut in, and 56 platforms were evacuated.

Enbridge will evacuate all personnel from its Venice, Louisiana, natural gas processing plant on Wednesday ahead of Hurricane Delta, the company had said in a website notice. It also evacuated all workers from its South Marsh Island 76 and Ship Shoal 207 platforms in the Gulf on Tuesday.

BHP Group was in the process of fully evacuating and shutting its Shenzi oil and natural gas platform in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday in advance of Hurricane Delta, company spokesman Judy Dane said.

The company removed staff and shut operations at its Neptune platform on Monday.

Shell was preparing to shut production at several assets and had begun evacuating non-essential staff from all nine of its facilities in the Gulf of Mexico ahead of Hurricane Delta, the company said on its website. All drilling rigs were securing operations.