August 31, 2006

Tourists in Mexican resort flee Hurricane John

By Noel Randewich

LOS CABOS, Mexico (Reuters) - Hundreds of foreign tourists
raced to escape this luxury beach resort on Thursday as
Hurricane John took aim at Mexico's Baja California peninsula
and rescuers rushed residents into shelters.

Vacationers in the Los Cabos resort, popular with U.S.
tourists and famed for its beaches and Jack Nicklaus-designed
golf courses, hastily grabbed flights to safety before the
storm hits on Friday.

"I've messed enough with hurricanes," said Curtis Bickers,
who was going to get married in Los Cabos on Saturday but
abandoned the plans as John barreled in from the ocean.

"I'm not going to take any chances whatsoever," said the
30-year-old lawyer who now plans to tie the knot in his
hometown of Houston, where he was evacuated about a year ago
when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center downgraded John to a
Category 2 hurricane on Thursday afternoon, but said it still
packed sustained winds of 105 mph (165 kph) and could
restrengthen before hitting Baja California.

Long lines of tourists waited at Los Cabos airport for
flights off the low-lying peninsula, but some were stranded.

"I'm a little worried. I've never been through a hurricane
but if worst come to worst we'll grab onto a pole and ride it
out," said Eddy Agredano, 33, a small business owner from
California was who on vacation with seven friends.

In the resort, workers boarded up shop windows, and many
yachts left the marina for safer ports on the mainland. Their
spots are filled by boats from even more exposed harbors.

"Those who can, are leaving," marina director Enrique
Rivera said as he monitored the emergency proceedings.

Residents raced to stock up on food and emergency supplies
as the hurricane's first rains hit the resort, which is made up
of two towns, Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.

Rescue workers began evacuating at least 10,000 residents
from low-lying areas to temporary shelters, said Jose Gajon,
head of civil protection for the state of Baja California Sur.

"Those who do not want to leave will be taken away by the
army," Gajon said.


Most of the resort's hotels have their own shelters where
tourists could ride out the storm if they wanted. But some
hotels were taking no chances and told guests to leave.

"We are evacuating everyone," said Mithza Velazquez,
concierge at the beachfront Hilton Hotel in Los Cabos.

Martin Guillen, spokesman of the Casa del Mar hotel, said
they were trying to evacuate as many guests as possible.

"We are trying to convince people that they should leave
for their own safety," he said. "The vast majority have changed
their flights and are leaving today."

It swirled about 65 miles southwest of the Islas Marias
small island chain and penal colony on Thursday as it roared
toward Los Cabos.

After smacking into Los Cabos, the storm was expected to
spin back out into the Pacific, posing no threat to the United

In October, Hurricane Wilma hit Cancun and other beach
resorts on Mexico's Caribbean coast. It caused massive damage,
eroding large stretches of beach and stranding tens of
thousands of tourists for days.

Rainfall of 6 to 10 inches, with isolated deluges of 18
inches, was possible over the southern part of Baja California
and along Mexico's west coast.

Meanwhile, the U.S. hurricane center issued a hurricane
watch for a portion of coastline from South Carolina to North
Carolina on Thursday as Tropical Storm Ernesto gained strength
over the Atlantic.

(Additional reporting by Tomas Sarmiento in Manzanillo,
Chris Aspin and Gunther Hamm in Mexico City)