BULL BAY, Jamaica – Fishermen dragged skiffs to shore and surfers rode enormous waves as Hurricane Emily’s winds strengthened Saturday to 155 mph, passing south of Jamaica and on track to make a direct hit at Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.
Mexican officials launched the evacuation of 85,000 people across more than 100 miles of coastline and ordered the relocation of 30,000 tourists in Cancun. The state oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos, began evacuating more than 15,000 workers from its offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Category 4 storm was on track to pass close to Grand Cayman Island overnight before smashing into the Yucatan peninsula on its way to the Gulf of Mexico and possibly southern Texas next week. Dave Roberts, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, said it was the strongest storm to form this early in the Atlantic season since record-keeping began in 1860.
In Mexico, long lines choked the Cancun airport on Saturday as tourists rushed to leave. Businesses boarded over and taped windows to protect them from shattering. One store hung a sign that said “Emily go away.”
The storm could at times become a Category 5 hurricane – the strongest storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale – once sustained winds top 155 mph, the hurricane center said.