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Hurricane Rick weakens in Pacific, still dangerous

HURRICANE Rick weakened in the eastern North Pacific on Sunday but was still a dangerous storm that forecasters said could veer into resorts at the tip of the Baja California Peninsula by midweek.

Rick's winds had decreased by last night to 145 mph (230 kph), making it a Category 4 hurricane - down from its peak winds of 180 mph (285 kph) as a Category 5 storm, the US National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, said.

The storm is expected to weaken further over the next couple of days, but forecasters said a hurricane watch may be required for parts of southern Baja California on Monday. They said they expected Rick to make landfall by midweek as a Category 1 or Category 2 hurricane, with winds ranging from 74 mph (120 kph) to 110 mph (177 kph).

As of 11 pm EDT Sunday (0300 GMT Monday), the eye was centered about 410 miles (660 kilometers) south of the peninsula town of Cabo San Lucas. The storm was moving toward the northwest near 13 mph (20 kph).

Rick threatened to disrupt a major sport-fishing tournament scheduled to start Wednesday in Los Cabos, where hundreds of fishermen - mainly Americans - were gathering.

Los Cabos' civil defense director, Francisco Cota, said authorities were already weighing plans to open storm shelters and start police patrols urging residents of low-lying neighborhoods to evacuate.

The first inhabited land in Rick's path is Socorro Island, about 300 miles (500 kilometers) southwest of Cabo San Lucas, where about 103 personnel from the Mexican Navy and other government agencies are based.

The mainland base that commands the detachment said Navy personnel on the island reported some wind and rain and lowered communications antennas to prevent them from being blown away when the hurricane passes near the island Monday. Isla Socorro is a nature reserve that hosts the Navy detachment as well as scuba-diving expeditions.

It's still far from clear where the storm will hit land, but the early forecast path would take it almost directly into Cabo San Lucas, where as many as 800 sports fishermen were expected to take part in the Bisbee's Los Cabos tournament, with about 130 boats scheduled to set off into the Pacific on Wednesday - the day Rick is projected to hit.

Teams from Russia and Japan had already shown up, and tournament organizer Clicerio Mercado said the three-day event would not be postponed, though fishing in the first two days might be canceled because of Rick, possibly leaving it as a one-day event Friday.

"In past years, we have had to cancel the first day of fishing two or three times," Mercado said. "But postponing it (the entire tournament) isn't a possibility."

Mercado said that in the past, "very big" 700 to 800 pound fish had been caught in the wake of storms because the churned-up waters draw in hungry fish.

Forecasters said Rick could carry enough force to continue past the peninsula and slam into Mexico's mainland as a hurricane 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.

"Rick is probably going to go into the record books as one of the most rapidly intensifying hurricanes," Cobb said.


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