August 31, 2006

Tourists flee Mexico resort ahead of Hurricane John

By Noel Randewich

LOS CABOS, Mexico (Reuters) - Hundreds of foreign tourists
raced to escape a luxury beach resort in Mexico on Thursday as
Hurricane John took aim at the 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). Its strength was
unlikely to change before it hit Baja California.

Long lines of tourists waited at Los Cabos airport for
flights off the low-lying peninsula.

Nurse Debbie Malanick, 52, was happy to take four flights
to reach home in Miami.

"It's probably going to take 24 hours to get there but
that's okay," said Malanick, who said she lost a house in the
huge 1992 Hurricane Andrew that devastated southern Florida.

"You have to get out any way you can. A flight to anywhere
to get me back home," she said.

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.

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 west of the Islas Marias small island
chain and penal colony on Thursday night as it roared toward
Los Cabos 170 miles away.

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 said Tropical Storm
Ernesto hit North Carolina near hurricane strength late on
Thursday, dumping heavy rain on both Carolina states and
forecasters warned it could trigger life-threatening floods and

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