September 1, 2006

John roars toward Mexican resort

By Noel Randewich

LOS CABOS, Mexico (Reuters) - A more powerful Hurricane
John roared toward one of Mexico's most exclusive beach resorts
on Friday, forcing hundreds of foreign tourists to flee ahead
of howling winds, angry seas and lashing rain.

Stores boarded up windows and five-star hotels readied
their own refugee shelters for mostly U.S. guests who gave up
plans to play golf, swim or go boating at the Los Cabos resort
on the tip of Baja California peninsula.

Many vacationers were taking no chances and headed for the
airport to seek flights home before John, a moderate-strength
Category Two storm, took a swipe at Los Cabos.

"It's a madhouse here," said Mike Munoz, 22, a carpenter
from Los Angeles at the airport. "We'll probably have to stay
here and wait it out, unless we get lucky and get a flight."

Rescue workers began evacuating at least 10,000 residents
from low-lying areas to temporary shelters, whether they wanted
to go or not.

"Those who do not want to leave will be taken away by the
army," said Jose Gajon, head of civil protection for the state
of Baja California Sur.

Residents lined up at supermarkets in a rush to buy food,
water and gasoline as the hurricane's first rains hit the
resort, which is made up of two towns, Cabo San Lucas and San
Jose del Cabo.

"There's a bit of panic," said a senior Red Cross official.


John's wind strength was fluctuating, and at 5 a.m. EDT
(0900 GMT) on Friday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center
upgraded it to a Category 3 hurricane when sustained winds
strengthened to 115 mph (185 kph). John had been downgraded one
notch the day before when its winds eased.

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.

The hurricane headed for Baja California 110 miles away.

After smacking into the resort, the storm was expected to
bounce back out into the Pacific, posing no threat to the
United States.

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.

The Mexican government discontinued storm warnings late
Thursday for the Pacific coast of mainland Mexico.

Last 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.

On the U.S. East Coast, Tropical Storm Ernesto spun north
through eastern North Carolina Friday morning at 15 mph (24
kph) with wind speeds up to 65 mph (105 kph).

Ernesto was expected to strike Virginia and bring heavy
rains on Friday and lose wind speed as it crawled toward
Pennsylvania by the weekend.

Ernesto had been forecast to reach the U.S. mainland as a
potential Category 3 storm but was weaker when it landed
onshore and by early Friday had done little damage.