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“Conditions will soon deteriorate for the Yucatan Peninsula” in Mexico, the US National Hurricane Center said on Friday, one to two hours before the arrival of Hurricane Beryl, which has already caused seven deaths in the Caribbean and Venezuela.

Very strong winds and dangerous waves are expected to “begin soon,” the Miami-based NHC said in its latest statement issued at 1:00 a.m. Cancun and Tulum time (0600 GMT), the two tourist capitals directly exposed to the hurricane.

The hurricane was then 140 km off the coast of Tulum with winds of up to 185 km/h.

After being downgraded to Category 2 earlier in the day, Hurricane Beryl strengthened to Category 3 on a scale of 5 Thursday evening off the coast of Yucatan, the NHC said in a previous statement.

Tourists were evacuated from hotels facing Tulum's beaches and others were trying to leave by bus. “We're going to Cancun,” Lili, a British tourist who was leaving Tulum, told AFP. “We want to be as close to the airport as possible.”

Others continued to enjoy a still sunny day at the beach.

“Our flight was cancelled and we had to pay for two more nights at the hotel. We are a little scared but we are convinced that people are ready and know what to do,” says Mexican tourist Virginia Rebollar, who is travelling with three other relatives.

About 100 domestic and international flights scheduled for Thursday through Friday were canceled from Cancun airport, Mexico's second-largest airport, a two-hour drive from Tulum.

The airport in Tulum – population 47,000 – suspended operations on Thursday. The army has deployed about 8,000 members to Tulum, saying it has food reserves and 34,000 liters of drinking water to distribute to the population.

Classes have been suspended in the region and reception centres have been set up for both tourists and locals, authorities said.

In Cancun, panic buying of basic necessities has been recorded in recent days in supermarkets and hotels have protected their windows as a precaution.

– Two passages in Mexico –
Beryl will hit Mexican territory twice, first as a Category 1 hurricane on the Yucatan Peninsula, then in the northwest after crossing the Gulf of Mexico, according to the government.

Preparations are also underway in the northwestern state of Tamaulipas, which borders the United States, said President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The first hurricane of the Atlantic season, which runs from early June to late November, Beryl, which is exceptionally powerful and early, has already caused seven deaths along its path, including three in Venezuela.

In the Cayman Islands, the storm caused flash flooding and mudslides.

In Jamaica, more than 400,000 people were left without power after the storm struck on Wednesday and homes were flattened.

King Charles III, head of state in several Caribbean countries, said on Thursday he was “deeply saddened” by this “terrible destruction”.

Beryl became the earliest hurricane ever recorded by the U.S. weather service.

It ravaged several states including Grenada and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, where “90% of homes were washed away” on Union, one of the islands in the archipelago, said its Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.

– Climate change –
Scientists say climate change, particularly by warming the ocean waters that fuel these storms, is making it more likely that they will intensify rapidly and increasing the risk of more powerful hurricanes.

The American meteorological observatory (NOAA) had warned at the end of May that the season was shaping up to be extraordinary, with the possibility of four to seven hurricanes of category 3 or more.

These forecasts are linked in particular to the expected development of the La Niña weather phenomenon, as well as to the very high temperatures of the Atlantic Ocean, explains NOAA.

The North Atlantic has been at record levels of warmth for more than a year, well above temperatures on record.

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