Zeta becomes hurricane, bears down on Mexican Caribbean coast

MEXICO CITY, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Storm Zeta strengthened into a hurricane on Monday and churned towards beach resorts on Mexico's Caribbean coast, which it is expected to rake with strong winds and heavy rain before heading towards oil-producing areas of the southern United States.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Zeta was blowing winds of some 80 miles per hour (129 km per hour) off the eastern coast of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, home to popular tourist getaways such as Cancun, Tulum and Playa del Carmen.

Zeta, a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale is not expected to strengthen much more before plowing across the peninsula, which is still recovering from the ravages of Hurricane Delta earlier this month.

By early afternoon, Zeta was about 105 miles (169 km) south east of the island of Cozumel, where a hurricane warning is in effect, the Miami-based NHC said. The alert also applies to nearby areas along the Yucatan peninsula, including Tulum.

Zeta is expected dump heavy rainfall across the Yucatan, the Cayman Islands, and parts of Cuba on Tuesday, triggering possible flash flooding in urban areas.

The hurricane is expected to reach the U.S. Gulf coast by Wednesday, where it could disrupt oil production.

Oil producer BP on Monday said it has begun to shut-in production at its Gulf of Mexico platforms and assets ahead of Zeta's arrival, after starting a staff evacuation on Sunday.

The company added that its four mobile offshore drilling units are also in the process of securing their wells to safely weather the storm. (Writing by Laura Gottesdiener; Editing by Sandra Maler Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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