MEXICO CITY, Aug 7 (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Franklin churned toward the tourist hubs along Mexico’s Caribbean coast on Monday, and is expected to strike the Yucatan Peninsula Tuesday just south of major resorts, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Franklin, which formed on Sunday, is located 155 miles (249 km) east of Chetumal, the Mexican city near the country’s border with Belize, and was closing in on making landfall at a speed of 13 miles per hour (21 km per hour).
Officials from five towns along the coast in Quintana Roo state have already decided to close schools Monday and Tuesday.
Franklin is blowing maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (97 kph), and is expected to continue moving west-northwest over the next two days, the Miami-based NHC said in an advisory.
On that trajectory, it will likely pass near state oil company Pemex’s major drilling projects in the shallow waters of the southern Gulf of Mexico, home to more than 80 percent of its crude production.
Pemex said the company is closely monitoring the storm, and that all facilities are operating normally.
The storm is expected to strengthen before it hits land.
Franklin is producing tropical storm-strength winds fanning out in a radius of 140 miles (225 km), which would put top beach resort Cancun in the path of the dangerous gusts.
A hurricane watch has been issued from Chetumal to Punta Allen, just south of the popular beach town of Tulum.
The NHC estimates that rainfall caused by Franklin along a large swatch of the Yucatan Peninsula and Belize will average between 3 to 6 inches (8-15 cm), with as much as 12 inches (30 cm) possible in some areas.
“A dangerous storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 2 to 4 feet (61-122 cm) above normal tide levels along the immediate coast near and to the north of where the center makes landfall,” the NHC said it the advisory. (Reporting by David Alire Garcia, Lizbeth Diaz and Ana Isabel Martinez; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)