* Arlene's path over Tamaulipas, oil refineries
* Storm could approach hurricane strength at landfall
* Warnings of flash floods, landslides from rains
(Adds updated storm path, details on ports, Pemex)
By Elinor Comlay
MEXICO CITY, June 29 (Reuters) - Arlene, the first tropical
storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, is likely to approach
hurricane strength by the time it makes landfall along Mexico's
northeastern coast early on Thursday.
The storm is heading toward oil refineries near the
Atlantic coast and in central Mexico but will probably spare
major offshore oil fields from a direct hit, according to the
forecast from U.S. National Hurricane Center.
"The official intensity forecast ... now shows Arlene
approaching hurricane strength at landfall," the Miami-based
center said in a statement.
Arlene, moving west, had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph
(85 kph) and was located about 155 miles (250 km) east of
Tampico in Tamaulipas state on Wednesday morning.
A hurricane watch is in place along Mexico's Gulf Coast
from the fishing town of Tuxpan northward to La Cruz.
The center's model showed the storm making landfall south
of Tampico, where the state oil monopoly Pemex [PEMEX] has its
190,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) Madero refinery.
Bigger inland refineries in Salamanca, producing 245,000
bpd, and Tula, with 315,000 bpd capacity, are also in the
storm's forecast path. ((For factbox on Mexico's refining
capacity and fuel demand, see [ID:nN09229970]))
A Pemex spokesman said the refineries were operating
normally and there were no reports of disruptions or
evacuations at any of the company's installations.
Mexico is a top oil exporter to the United States and
almost all of its exports are shipped to refineries on the U.S.
Gulf Coast from the three Gulf of Mexico ports: Dos Bocas, Cayo
Arcas and Coatzacoalcos.
Arlene will hit north of the oil exporting ports, according
to the hurricane center's model, and all remained open on
Strong winds and rain are expected to batter the eastern
Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Veracruz and eastern San Luis
Potosi and could reach Mexico City by Friday.
"These rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and
mudslides," the center said.
Mexico's northeastern Atlantic coast is popular with local
tourists for its beaches but many poor coastal towns lack flood
A spokesman for civil protection in Taumalipas said the
region was on "amber alert" and residents had been advised to
make sure their homes were properly secured.
The rains, however, could bring some relief to farmers
planting sugar cane, sorghum and fruit trees in the area who
have been suffering from a prolonged dry spell.
Mexico was hit by Hurricane Beatriz, the second tropical
storm of the Pacific season, last week but the weather system
did no major damage. [ID:nN1E75K09N]
(Reporting by Elinor Comlay in Mexico City, additional
reporting by Naveed Anjum and Koustav Samanta in Bangalore;
Editing by Philip Barbara)