Rina weakens to tropical depression

Rina has weakened to a tropical depression as it moves out to sea after bringing rain and wind to parts of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, a busy tourist destination.
A photo from the International Space Station shows tropical storm Rina approaching Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. The storm emptied hotels and beaches in the normally bustling Caribbean tourist region. (NASA/AP)

Rina has weakened to a tropical depression as it moves out to sea after bringing rain and wind to parts of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, a busy tourist destination.

The storm, downgraded Thursday from a hurricane, brushed the resort town of Playa del Carmen with winds reaching 95 km/h. 

Rina knocked down trees and cut off electricity in some areas before being downgraded to a tropical depression mid-morning Friday.

The tropical depression's centre was about 90 kilometres west-northwest of Cancun and maximum wind speeds had dropped to about 55 km/h, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Further weakening was expected over the weekend, forecasters said.

Mexican officials called off tropical storm watches and warnings as the storm weakened and moved out to sea, but The Associated Press said many businesses remained closed and officials were still warning people to be cautious.

Playa de Carmen, a resort town across from the island of Cozumel, was left without electricity and streets were largely empty as Rina swept along the coast.

The resort town opened up shelters ahead of the storm to accommodate people whose houses had been damaged by the winds and rain or who had lost power, the town’s disaster-management chief told Mexico’s El Universal newspaper.

The country’s military also moved to forcibly evacuate residents who refused to leave a low-lying island at the north end of the Yucatan Peninsula.

In Cozumel, a tourist-heavy island off the peninsula’s east coast, some neighbourhoods experienced flooding from the torrential rains.

A few bold tourists venture out

The region’s normally idyllic Caribbean beaches were mostly abandoned Thursday. Twenty-two hotels in Cancun shut their doors, forcing 600 tourists into temporary storm shelters. About 10,000 travellers had already left the area ahead of Rina’s approach, state tourism director Juan Carlos Gonzalez Hernandez estimated, before 138 flights were cancelled.

A man and woman brave tropical storm Rina's rains on a pier in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, on Thursday. Most beaches in the Mayan Riviera were abandoned. (Victor Ruiz Garcia/Reuters)

But some decided to ride out the weakened tempest.

"We would prefer to lie on the beach and get in the ocean, but right now all we can do is walk around and go shopping," said Vera Kohler, a 27-year-old tourist from Frankfurt, Germany, who arrived Wednesday and planned to stay in the area until Sunday.

Domenico Cianni, a retired restaurateur from Vancouver, said he prepared for a hurricane by buying extra food and beer and putting shutters on the windows of his rental home. But after hearing Rina had been downgraded to a tropical storm, he decided to join tourists on Playa del Carmen's pier.

"We were curious about what's happening. We wanted to be part of the action," Cianni said.

The storm damage looked to be far less than anticipated a few days ago, when it was feared Rina would make landfall as a Category 3 hurricane. Still, schools were ordered closed in communities along the coast and on Cozumel in anticipation of the storm, and will not reopen until Monday.

With files from The Associated Press