September 1, 2006

Hurricane John aims at Baja

By Noel Randewich

LOS CABOS, Mexico (Reuters) - Dangerous 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 shelters for mostly U.S. guests who
abandoned plans to play golf on courses designed by Jack
Nicklaus, swim or go boating at Los Cabos in Baja California.

John picked up power overnight to become a dangerous
category 3 storm and was expected to smack the corner of the
Baja peninsula to the west of Los Cabos with winds of 115 mph
(185 kph) on Friday afternoon.

Torrential rain fell for two hours and wind picked up as
locals clutching blankets hurried along the street to refuges.
Some 17,000 people were being evacuated from Los Cabos and the
state capital La Paz.

Some vacationers hunkered down in their hotels.

Randy Hinton, 42, a frequent American visitor facing his
fourth hurricane in Los Cabos, moored his new million-dollar
yacht in the town marina for safety.

"If Mother Nature wants to take it then let her take it.
I'm not going to die for it," said Hinton, a sports fisherman.

Poor shack-dwellers on the outskirts of the resort had it
toughest. Soldiers evacuated some 175 people with flimsy homes
in a riverbed to a school where food was scarce.

"If the water comes, my house is going to fall down," said
Elizabeth Garcia, 24. "The water will take away everything."

Children in bare feet ran around playing while their
parents sat uncomfortably in small school chairs.

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


At 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), the U.S. National Hurricane
Center said John was 95 miles southeast of Los Cabos and moving
slowly northwest at 7 mph (11 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.

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

Residents and visitors alike lined up to buy food, water
and gasoline at the resort, made up of the towns of Cabo San
Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.

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

"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.

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

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

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, the storm Ernesto was downgraded to
a tropical depression as it crossed into Virginia and knocked
out power services to 263,000 customers.

Ernesto was expected to bring heavy rain to Virginia,
Maryland and Pennsylvania.