Mexican authorities set up emergency shelters and cruise ships shifted course on Tuesday as Hurricane Rina strengthened off the Caribbean coast on a projected track that would carry it whirling through Cancun and the resort-filled Mayan Riviera, Mexico's most popular tourist destination. Rina's maximum sustained winds have increased to 105 mph, said the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, making it a Category 2 storm.
Forecasters predict it will strengthen as it nears the Mexican coast Wednesday night before rolling over the island of Cozumel, a popular dive spot and cruise-ship port, then along the coast to Cancun.
The area, dotted with Mayan ruins, also includes Playa del Carmen, another popular spot for international tourists.
Cancun Tourism Director Maximo Garcia said the city alone now has about 22,000 tourists even in the pre-holiday low season. Quintana Roo state as a whole has some 83,000 hotel rooms, most in the Mayan Riviera-Cancun area.
Laura Valles, a receptionist at the Hotel Jashita in coastal Tulum, said four of its 15 guests chose to move inland to hotels at the archaeological site of Chichen Itza, some 90 miles west, and others were still deciding what to do.
"We are letting those with a reservation know they will have to change their dates," Valles said.
Yassir Espinoza, a clerk at the small Plaza Azul hotel in Cozumel, said tourists were being warned of the impending storm.
"We told them if there is a hurricane there won't be any electricity or water for at least three days," she said.
In Cancun's hotel zone, a string of pick up trucks hauled small boats and jet skis away from marinas, while workers at shopping malls began boarding up windows.
At least eight cruise ships were changing itineraries away from the storm's path, said Carnival Cruise Lines spokesman Vance Gulliksen.
Three cruise ships from Norwegian and one from Royal Caribbean have canceled their Friday port of call in the area, said Hiram Toledo, port administrator for Quintana Roo state, where Cancun is located.
The area was badly damaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, when Cancun's famous white-sand beaches were largely washed away. Insurance officials estimated total damage at $3 billion.
State officials said they were readying more than 1,100 shelters that could handle nearly 200,000 people, though so far there was no word of any planned evacuations.
Rina is the sixth hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, according to the hurricane center.