July 18, 2005

Hurricane Emily slams into Mexican beach resorts

By Tim Gaynor and Anahi Rama

CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) - Hurricane Emily battered
Mexico's Caribbean beach resorts on Monday, forcing thousands
of tourists out of fancy seafront hotels and into crowded
shelters to escape its destruction.

Emily knocked out power lines, blew down trees and whipped
up dangerous waves at the popular resort of Cancun and along
the "Maya Riviera," normally a vacation playground of long,
white beaches and calm seas.

There were no early reports of injury or death.

After killing at least four people in its swing across the
Caribbean, Emily hit Mexico's coast as a Category 4 hurricane
with winds of 135 mph (215 kph). Cozumel island, a popular
diving destination, appeared to take the hardest hit.

Emily lost some punch as it moved inland, dropping to a
Category 2 hurricane with winds near 110 mph (175 kph), but
forecasters said it would probably gather new strength when it
heads out over the Gulf of Mexico later on Monday.

Mexico shut down most of the offshore wells in its most
productive oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico, and two major
ports that export crude were also closed.

Thousands of tourists cut short their beach vacations and
fled for home over the weekend. But many were unable to leave
or decided to see it through at makeshift shelters.

"This is my first trip outside the United States and then
this happens ... I'm just going to keep praying," said Rod
Jones, a schoolteacher from Michigan, as he sat nervously in a
blacked-out hotel room early on Monday, clutching a pillow.

Luxury beachfront hotels were boarded up, so inland hotels
put up the 5-star refugees as well as local residents. Some
squeezed in 15 people per room and schools and gymnasiums were
also used in the operation to protect about 60,000 people.


Soldiers packed 2,000 visitors from three luxury hotels
into one gymnasium in Cancun 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.

Many locals who live in ramshackle houses feared for their
homes as they packed a few possessions and headed for shelter.

"We live on a ranch about 10 km (six 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, flattening homes and killing hundreds.

Emily killed four people when a car was swept away by flood
waters in Jamaica on Sunday. 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.

State oil company Pemex cut off most oil production in the
Campeche Sound, the Gulf of Mexico basin that produces 80
percent of Mexico's crude, and some 15,000 oil rig workers were
evacuated. Oil prices jumped in response to the supply cut.

Hurricane watches were issued on Monday for the south Texas
coast and northeastern Mexico, where Emily is expected to make
landfall early on Wednesday morning after crossing the Gulf of

At 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT), the hurricane's center was over
the Yucatan peninsula, about 70 miles west of Cozumel. It was
moving west-northwest at 17 mph (28 kph) and hurricane winds
extended out 60 miles from the center.

Forecasters warned of coastal flooding, big waves and heavy
rainfall from Emily, the second major hurricane of the season.

Thousands of tourists had packed into Cancun's airport on
Sunday in a desperate and chaotic search for a flight out.

Once flights were canceled, tourists joined Mexicans in
stocking up on food and water.

Some 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 girlfriend.