* Hurricane is strengthening fast over Gulf of Mexico
* Could strike Mexican coast late on Friday
* Pemex offshore oil facilities unaffected so far by Karl (Recasts with Karl a hurricane, adds wind speeds and positions; changes byline)
By Jason Lange
MEXICO CITY, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Hurricane Karl formed in the southern Gulf of Mexico on Thursday and could strengthen quickly as it headed for the coast of eastern Mexico, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Karl was a Category 1 hurricane with maximum winds of 75 miles (120 km) per hour, though no damage was reported at Mexican offshore oil drilling platforms in the area.
The hurricane barreled toward Mexico's state of Veracruz, where it could touch land Friday night.
"Karl could approach major hurricane strength before the center reaches the Mexican coast," the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. "Karl is expected to strengthen steadily and possibly rapidly."
The storm is the sixth hurricane of the 2010 Atlantic season. Of these, four have been "major" hurricanes that reach Category 3 or higher on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. At 11:00 a.m. EST (1500 GMT), the storm was located about 150 miles (240 km) west of Campeche.
Mexican state-run oil giant Pemex had not curtailed operations but said it would monitor Karl's progress as it passed over the Bay of Campeche in the Gulf, where the bulk of Mexico's 2.55 million barrels per day of oil is produced.
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Pemex suspended small craft shipping to platforms in the bay but there were no reports of damage to any oil installations there, a company employee said. [ID:nN16260991]
Storms in the Bay of Campeche have the potential to cause serious disruption to Mexican oil output but rarely pass far enough south to cause problems. Mexico was the No. 3 supplier of crude to the United States during the first half of this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Any disruption in production would likely last days although rare direct hits on major platforms in the past have forced lengthy shutdowns.
Earlier in the week, Karl dumped rain and brought strong winds to the Yucatan peninsula and hundreds of people, mostly Mayan villagers, were evacuated, authorities said.
The storm also knocked out power to tens of thousands of people throughout the mainly rural area. Majahual, home to a large cruise ship port, bore the brunt of the storm as it made landfall but no serious damage was reported.
Cancun, a top beach destination for U.S. and European tourists, was untouched by the storm.
IGOR AND JULIA
Two other hurricanes, Igor and Julia, also churned across the Atlantic Ocean but posed no immediate threat to the U.S. mainland or energy interests, projected to eventually die out far from land.
Igor was 910 miles (1,465 km) south southeast of Bermuda with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph (220 kph), making it a dangerous Category 4 storm.
Igor was on a track that would bring it close to Bermuda late on Sunday and early on Monday and the hurricane center said the British overseas territory.
Bermudan Home Affairs Minister David Burch urged islanders to get ready. "You should be getting prepared now -- if you wait until Saturday evening, it will be too late," he said.
Local forecasters in Bermuda said the Atlantic island should prepare for a "virtual direct hit" from Igor, which was expected to pass less than 50 miles (80 km) east of the island as a Category 2 hurricane on Sunday.
Bermuda's government said the territory had not been threatened by such a severe hurricane since Hurricane Fabian in 2003, which killed four people and caused millions of dollars worth of damage.
Julia had weakened to a Category 2 storm, with 100 mph (160 kph) winds. It was located about 1050 miles (1,690 km) west-northwest of the Cape Verde Islands and was moving northwest.
The June-November hurricane season has been more active than average this year, with 11 named storms so far, but damage has been relatively limited as several storms fizzled out in the Atlantic. (Additional reporting by Samantha Strangeways in Hamilton; editing by Missy Ryan and Doina Chiacu)
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