September 1, 2006

Dangerous John spins toward Baja

By Noel Randewich

LOS CABOS, Mexico (Reuters) - 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.

Five-star hotels set up refugee shelters for mostly U.S.
guests who abandoned plans to play golf, swim or go boating at
the Los Cabos resort in Baja California.

John picked up power overnight to become a dangerous
category 3 storm and was expected to brush the corner of the
peninsula to the west of Los Cabos later in the day.

Rescue workers evacuated hundreds of residents from
low-lying areas to temporary shelters and said they may send
more away from the danger area.

Many vacationers took no chances and flew home, creating
long lines at Los Cabos airport.

Others hunkered down in their hotels.

American sports fisherman Randy Hinton, 42, facing his
fourth hurricane in Los Cabos where he comes every three weeks,
said he had moored his brand new million-dollar yacht in the
town marina, hoping it would be safe.

"If mother nature wants to take it then let her take it.
I'm not going to die for it," he said.

Stores had boarded up windows and municipal authorities
banned the sale of alcohol.

"We're prepared," said 17-year-old hotel cleaner Benjamin
de la Cruz as he walked to work.

Residents lined up to buy food, water and gasoline as
drizzle fell on the resort, made up of the towns of Cabo San
Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.

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


At 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT), the U.S. National Hurricane
Center said John was 100 miles southeast of Los Cabos and
moving northwest at 10 mph (16 kph) with sustained winds of 115
mph (185 kph).

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

"We just went and stocked up on water and bought a couple
of flashlights," said Matt Haskin, on vacation with his wife
and 3-year-old son. The family was enjoying a swim in calm sea
on Thursday after failing to get a flight out.

"This place is built like Fort Knox," he added, pointing to
their luxury hotel.

After hitting the resort, John was expected to bounce back
into the Pacific, posing no threat to the United States.

Last October, Hurricane Wilma hit Cancun and other beach
resorts on Mexico's Caribbean coast. It caused heavy 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 North Carolina on Friday morning with wind speeds up to
60 mph (96 kph).

Ernesto did little damage but was expected to bring heavy
rain to Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania by the weekend.