July 18, 2005

Mexican resorts survive Hurricane Emily’s wrath

By Tim Gaynor and Anahi Rama

CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexico's Caribbean beach resorts
escaped almost unscathed on Monday from Hurricane Emily, which
blew down trees and cut power but nothing more serious.

Cozumel island, a popular diving destination, took the
hardest hit. The storm uprooted trees and smashed windows of
homes and businesses.

"The danger has passed ... the worst is over," said Felix
Gonzalez, the governor of Quintana Roo state, home to Mexico's
Caribbean resorts.

Mexico shut down the majority of the offshore wells in its
most productive oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico, and two major
ports that export crude remained closed early on Monday.

Tourists and residents of the "Maya Riviera" escaped the
storm's fury by spending an uncomfortable night crammed into
crowded shelters.

Emily killed four people in Jamaica before it hit Mexico,
where it was indirectly responsible for three deaths over the

At first light on Monday morning, cars picked their way
through branches strewn across the road in Cancun, the main
resort on a long strip of coastline of white sands, turquoise
seas and lively nightlife.

There was no immediate sign of serious structural damage.

"I have lived through three hurricanes, and I was expecting
lot more entertainment," said Andre Elwes, 29, a Canadian who
runs a tourist submarine in Cozumel, home to some of the
world's best scuba diving.

The storm, at one point a Category 4 hurricane with winds
of 135 mph (215 kph), had dropped to a Category 2 storm on
Monday. Emily was crossing the low-lying Yucatan Peninsula and
was due to enter the Gulf of Mexico and regain strength later
on Monday. It was expected to threaten the southern Texas coast


The government warned residents of the state of Yucatan to
be alert. "We have been asking them not to go out into the
street because this storm is still very dangerous," said Carmen
Segura Rangel, the head of Mexico's civil protection agency.

At 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), the hurricane's center was over
the Yucatan peninsula, just northeast of the pretty colonial
city of Merida. Its winds had dropped to 100 mph (160 kph).

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

But storm warning systems and evacuation procedures have
improved greatly since then. The civil protection agency said
it had shelters capable of holding more than 300,000 people.

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

With luxury beachfront hotels boarded up, inland hotels
opened up ballrooms and conference rooms to rows and rows of
sleeping couples and families. Others squeezed in 15 people per
room. Schools and gymnasiums took in an estimated 60,000

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

Mexican officials attributed no deaths to Emily. But two
pilots were killed on Saturday when a wind gust blew their
helicopter into the Gulf of Mexico during oil rig evacuations.
And a German man was killed when he touched a high tension wire
while pruning a tree at his home in Playa del Carmen as the
storm approached.

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. Some 15,000 oil rig workers were
evacuated. Oil prices at first jumped in response to the supply
cut, before turning lower on signs of slowing demand.