October 25, 2005

Tourists flee ruined Cancun beaches

By Noel Randewich and Greg Brosnan

CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) - Tourists rushed to flee Mexico's
Caribbean coast on Tuesday where Hurricane Wilma wrecked hotels
and ate up large chunks of soft white beaches that pull in
millions of vacationers every year.

After days in damp, filthy shelters, crowds of British and
American tourists lined up in downtown Cancun for buses
arranged by foreign embassies to take them to the city of
Merida and then flights home.

"We've had no water and no electricity since Thursday. The
hotel is in a terrible state. I just want to get out," said
British tourist Dave Howarth, 62, an engineer.

The U.S. government said it helped about 1,900 Americans
evacuate from the "Maya Riviera," a string of beach resorts
that was devastated by Hurricane Wilma late last week before it
turned sharply and whacked Cuba and southern Florida.

The hurricane was off the northeast coast of United States
on Tuesday and losing power.

Fierce winds and flooding from Wilma, one of the strongest
Atlantic storms recorded, killed at least seven people and
battered Cancun, nearby Playa del Carmen, the scuba diving
island of Cozumel and smaller resorts along the coast.

Angry seas rushed several hundred yards inland, washing
away much of Cancun's famed silky sand. The popular Playa
Delfines beach was swallowed by the storm surge.

"It's very ugly. I'd say there were 30 meters (98 feet)
before and now there are less than 10," said Auric Oliver, who
works at a shrimp restaurant.


The sand cover at another beach at the southern point of
Cancun's hotel strip fell by more than 2 feet in depth.

Wilma rampaged along Mexico's Caribbean coast for two days.
It then flooded the Cuban capital and killed four people and
cut power to millions of homes in southern Florida.

Cancun was built out of almost nothing by government
planners on a spit of mosquito-infested sand in the late 1970s.
It lost much of its beaches to Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 but
replaced them with sand brought from elsewhere at great

The new devastation to its beaches was another headache for
a resort where luxury hotels, bars and restaurants and shopping
malls lay in ruins.

The tourism ministry put the damage done on the Maya
Riviera, where the key Christmas season now looks ruined, at
$800 million but hotel owners said it was nearer $1.5 billion.

Tourists left Cancun with bad memories and were unlikely to
hurry back.

About 20,000 vacationers spent four or five days in
stinking, cramped shelters where food and drink were rationed
and some ended up defecating in buckets because the toilets

"We were like animals," said Jay Abrams from New Jersey.

Others blamed the U.S. government for not getting them out
in time. "Tell Bush he left his people here," one woman shouted
from a crowd of American tourists waiting outside a hotel.