Weakened Tropical Storm Rick nears Mexico resorts

LOS CABOS, Mexico – Once-powerful Hurricane Rick lost most of its punch as it headed toward Mexican resort regions as a tropical storm Tuesday, but local authorities still prepared for evacuations in case of flooding.

Rick had been the strongest hurricane in the eastern North Pacific region since 1997, with winds of 180 mph 290 kph during the weekend, and it kicked up high waves hundreds of miles from its center that killed at least two people. But Rick spent its force far out at sea and was weakened by moving across cooler waters.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Rick was projected to limp along a path south of the tip of the Baja California Peninsula late Tuesday before crossing the mouth of the Gulf of California and hitting the mainland near Mazatlan on Wednesday.

The storm's maximum sustained winds were down to 65 mph 100 kph Tuesday afternoon, the Hurricane Center said. It was centered about 165 miles 265 kilometers south-southwest of Cabo San Lucas and moving to the north-northeast at 9 mph 15 kph.

Forecasters said it could dump 4 to 6 inches of rain in some areas in the states of Baja California, Sinaloa and Durango and warned of possible flash floods and mud slides.

Mayor Oscar Rene Nunez said officials would close schools in Los Cabos and urged residents living in makeshift homes and those in flood zones to seek shelter.

Los Cabos civil defense director Francisco Cota said authorities would evacuate about 4,000 people from flood-prone neighborhoods late Tuesday.

As heavy rain began to fall in the afternoon, a group that traveled to Los Cabos for a high school reunion sought shelter and diversion in the high-end Puerto Paraiso mall.

"We want our sunshine. We only got one day," said Tracie Machovsky, part of the class of 1988 from Wenatchee High School in Washington state.

The downpour also forced organizers to reschedule a major sport-fishing tournament originally to begin in Cabo San Lucas Wednesday. To make up for the delay, organizers have added Saturday as an extra day of tournament fishing.

About 20 percent of 800 participants pulled out of Bisbee's Los Cabos tournament this week, but organizer Wayne Bisbee said many were trying to travel to Mexico after learning of the storm's weakening.

"They're getting on planes as fast as they can," he said.

Rick was the second strongest storm to hit the eastern North Pacific since experts began keeping reliable records in 1966, topped only by Hurricane Linda, which generated maximum winds of 185 mph 297 kph in September 1997.

Long before Rick neared the peninsula, its powerful surf claimed two victims. A 16-year-old boy swimming at El Medano beach drowned Monday and a 38-year-old man fishing from a rocky point was swept away by a big wave the previous day.

Far out in the Pacific Ocean, Hurricane Neki formed far from the main Hawaiian Islands.

Maximum winds were at about 75 mph 120 kph. It is expected to pass near tiny Johnston Island possibly on Wednesday, forecasters said.

The uninhabited island, which is part of the isolated Johnston Atoll, is under the primary jurisdiction and control of the U.S. Air Force. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a national wildlife refuge there.

Associated Press writer Ignacio Martinez in Cabo San Lucas contributed to this report.