July 18, 2005

Lethal Hurricane Emily lashes Mexican resorts

By Tim Gaynor and Anahi Rama

CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) - Hurricane Emily pounded Mexico's
Caribbean coast on Sunday night and thousands of panicked
tourists fled beach resorts or squeezed into shelters to escape
its destructive winds and torrential rains.

Packing 135-mph (215-kph) winds, Emily knocked out power
and whipped up huge waves along the "Maya Riviera," normally a
sun-blessed playground of huge hotels, aquatic parks and golf

Mexico shut down the majority of offshore wells in its most
productive oil fields, and two ports that export crude were
closed due to churning seas.

In Cancun, one of the world's best-known resorts, luxury
beachfront hotels were boarded up as the Category 4 hurricane
tore in from the Caribbean.

Hotels further inland and at other resorts along the coast
squeezed in up to 15 people per room. Schools and gymnasiums
were also used as makeshift shelters in the operation to
protect about 60,000 people.

Soldiers packed 2,000 visitors from three luxury hotels
into one gymnasium and simply barred the doors.

"I am dying here," screamed Spanish tourist Juan Moreno,
27, from Madrid as he banged on a locked iron gate. There was
no fan or air conditioning, and hotel staff tied to calm down a
woman who was hyperventilating.

Locals, many of whom live in ramshackle houses much less
able to withstand storm winds than Cancun's luxury hotels,
worried about their homes as they headed for shelter.

"We live on a ranch about 10 km (6 miles) from here and I
don't know if the roof is going to bear up. We left everything
covered by tarpaulins," said Ezequiel Martinez, 53, a welder
taking refuge at a shelter in Playa del Carmen.

Many feared a repeat of Hurricane Gilbert, which tore up
Cancun in 1988, razing homes and killing hundreds.


Emily killed four people in Jamaica early on Sunday and two
pilots were killed in Mexico on Saturday night when their
helicopter was blown by a gust of wind into the Gulf of Mexico
during oil rig evacuations.

The state oil company Pemex cut off most oil production in
the Campeche Sound, the southern Gulf of Mexico basin that
produces 80 percent of the country's crude, and some 15,000 oil
rig workers were pulled out before Emily hit.

Oil prices jumped more than 1 percent in response to the
cut in supply. Shell Oil Co. shut some U.S. natural gas and
oil output ahead of the storm's expected arrival in the Gulf of
Mexico on Monday.

The second major hurricane of the season, Emily was rated
an "extremely dangerous" Category 4 on the five-step scale of
hurricane intensity, capable of doing severe damage to
infrastructure. Forecasters warned of coastal flooding.

At 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT Monday), Emily was 50 miles
southeast of Cozumel island, and moving west-northwest near 18
mph (30 kph). Hurricane winds extended out 60 miles from the

Earlier on Sunday, thousands of tourists packed into
Cancun's airport in a desperate search for a flight out.

Once flights were canceled, terrified tourists joined
Mexicans in stockpiling food and water as shops and bars
boarded up their windows. As the wind picked up people scurried
to safety clutching stacks of takeout pizza.

Some in Cancun refused shelter. "This is our first
hurricane and we want to see it," said Jonathan Morisset from
Quebec, Canada, who said he planned to stay outside with his

Others groaned at a suspension on alcohol sales.

"The party's off in Cancun," said Andrew Lechance, 41, from

Emily passed 100 miles to the south of Jamaica but still
triggered flooding and mudslides there. Two children and two
adults died when a car was swept away.