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Hurricane Smacks Baja California, Bound for...

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SAN QUINTIN, MEXICO (AP) — Hurricane Nora was downgraded to atropical storm today after pummeling Baja California with highwinds and heavy rain. Nora was headed toward the U.S. Southwest,where people hurried to fill sandbags and stockpile emergencysupplies.

Nora was downgraded when its sustained winds dropped to 70 mph,and forecasters said further weakening is expected as it moves upthe Gulf of California.

At 2 p.m. EDT, Nora was about 65 miles south of Yuma, Ariz., andmoving north at 28 mph with sustained winds of 65 mph.

A gradual turn toward the north-northeast was expected duringthe next 12 to 24 hours, the U.S. Hurricane Center in Miami said.The center of Nora will likely move into northern Sonora state inMexico and then into southwestern Arizona later.

An isolated tornado or two is possible later today oversouthwestern and south-central Arizona, the center said.Forecasters predicted up to 8 inches of rain for the Yuma region -double the area's average annual rainfall.

Nora hit the Baja California peninsula early today near PuntaEugenia, about midway down the 800-mile-long coastline.

Sea swells were estimated at 12 feet and winds at 60 mph atBahia Tortugas, a village on Punta Eugenia, said witness RubenGarcia.

``At the moment, there there is a lot of rain,'' Garcia said bytelephone.

People living in homes scattered around the peninsula gatheredin town for safety, he said. Paperboard roofing had been blown offa few homes, he said.

Nora was expected to move north up the Gulf of California,weakening as it approached southern Arizona. Meteorologists warned,however, that Nora would still be a tropical storm when it enteredthe United States - a rarity for the desert Southwest.

Authorities prepared for flash flooding in southeast Californiaand Arizona. Meteorologists said rain was possible from theSouthern California coast, north into Nevada and possibly southernUtah, and as far east as western Colorado and western New Mexico.

In Yuma, firefighters' shovels flashed as crews busily filledthousands of sandbags late Wednesday in preparation for theexpected arrival of today's storm.

``People are worried, concerned - `Should I evacuate?''' saidRichard Benson, communications supervisor for the Yuma CountySheriff's Office. ``We're in a pretty low-lying area down here, andit's a big concern.''

Yuma resident Shirley Ball waited in a blocks-long line forsandbags.

``We went to the grocery store and bought extra water andbatteries for our flashlight, stocked up on groceries and we'regetting sandbags from the Fire Department because water comesthrough the front door,'' she said.

Arizona Gov. Jane Hull sent National Guard trucks, generatorsand trailers that can carry gallons of potable water to Yuma. TheRed Cross sent in a disaster team.

``We want to be safe, we want to be prepared, we want to beready,'' Mrs. Hull said.

The Tohono O'odham Nation evacuated about two dozen families inisolated villages on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border todayand canceled classes for all reservation schools through Friday.

Nora emerged as a tropical storm along the southern Mexicancoast on Sept. 16 and reached hurricane force two days later. Atits strongest, the storm had sustained winds of 125 mph.

It caused no deaths, but storm-churned waves as high as 16 feetpounded hundreds of miles of the Mexico coastline, destroyingdozens of homes.

By NIKO PRICE,Associated Press WriterCopyright ©1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.