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Hurricane Rick weakens, blamed in death

October 19, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Hurricane Rick was more than a day away from the resorts of Baja California on Monday but the 13-foot (4-meter) waves it kicked up have already killed one person in Los Cabos, which lies almost directly in the hurricane's forecast path.Forecasters say Hurricane Rick that once had winds up to 180 mph has weakened to a tropical storm as it approaches the southern tip of Baja California.

Meanwhile, forecasters have issued a hurricane watch for an island far south of Hawaii for Tropical Storm Neki.

Forecasters say winds from Rick have died down to 70 mph (90 kph). It was once a Category 5 storm.

As of 8 p.m. PDT Monday, the center was about 290 miles (465 km) south-southwest of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Neki was about 700 miles south-southwest of Honolulu and about 670 miles east-southeast of tiny Johnston Island. It is expected to pass very close to the island as a hurricane by Wednesday.

Maximum winds were at about 40 mph.

Francisco Cota, the Los Cabos civil defense director, said the deceased 38-year-old man was standing on a rocky point fishing when he was swept away by one of the big waves Sunday. Bystanders went to help the man, but by the time they got him out of the water he was dead.

"We have established patrols on the beaches to keep people from going into the sea," Cota said. Storm shelters were being opened at local schools and patrol vehicles were making the rounds of low-lying neighborhoods with loudspeakers urging people to evacuate.

"The port is closed ... and people are getting their boats our of the bay," Cota said.

At the beach-side SolMar resort in Cabo San Lucas, manager Silvia Carlos said the hotel was taking precautions, but had not evacuated guests.

"We are covering up windows in the entranceway and sealing doors," Carlos said. "The waves are starting to get high."

Rick also threatened to disrupt a major sport-fishing tournament scheduled to start Wednesday. About 800 sports fishermen were scheduled to gather for the Bisbee's Los Cabos tournament.

About 130 boats had been scheduled to set off into the Pacific on Wednesday - the day Rick is projected to hit, but tournament organizer Clicerio Mercado said the start of the event would be postponed in hopes fishing could resume Thursday or Friday.

The mainland base that commands the detachment said Navy personnel on the island reported heavy winds and waves on Monday, but no damage or injuries.

Forecasters said a weakening Rick is likely to continue past the Baja peninsula and slam into Mexico's mainland somewhere near the resort city of Mazatlan on Thursday.

Rick was the second-strongest hurricane in the eastern North Pacific since 1966, when experts began keeping reliable records, Hurricane Center meteorologist Hugh Cobb said.

The strongest was Hurricane Linda, which generated maximum winds of 185 mph (296 kph) in September 1997.

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