September 1, 2006

Hurricane John lashes Los Cabos resort

By Noel Randewich

LOS CABOS, Mexico (Reuters) - Hurricane John slammed into
the Baja California peninsula on Friday, forcing thousands of
tourists and residents in a posh beach resort into shelters to
escape high winds, angry seas and lashing rain.

Rescue teams on the Baja California peninsula were worried
about the storm's sluggish pace as it drifted near the Los
Cabos resort because it increased the chances that John could
wreak havoc.

Vacationers, most of them from the United States, dropped
plans to golf on courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, swim or go
boating. Five-star beachside hotels set up shelters in
conference rooms where tourists laid out mattresses and stocked
up on food.

Narciso Agundez, governor of Baja California Sur state,
said he was surprised at how long John was staying in the area.
Slow-moving hurricanes cause more damage because they dump more
rain and winds blow longer.

John was downgraded to a Category 2 storm but still brought
winds of nearly 110 mph (175 kph).

Heavy rain fell in Los Cabos which John was expected to
rough up without hitting directly. The U.S. National Hurricane
Center said the storm was 25 miles east of the resort, one of
Mexico's most exclusive, and creeping northwest slowly.

Local residents clutching blankets hurried along the street
to shelters. Some 17,000 people were being evacuated from Los
Cabos and La Paz, where rain fell.

"We have the 4,000 people who were in most danger in
shelters. We are ready," said the head of Civil Protection for
the state, Jose Gajon.

Randy Hinton, 42, a frequent American visitor, moored his
new million-dollar yacht in Los Cabos 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.


John was forecast to rumble up the peninsula and brush by
the tourist port of La Paz, capital of Baja California Sur
state and home to around 170,000 residents.

The hurricane is then expected to edge out into the Pacific
Ocean, posing no threat to the United States.

Poor residents 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

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.

"We'll just hunker down and let it pass," said Jim Miles, a
retired American from Seattle who moved to the area two years

Coastal storm surges of up to 5 feet above normal tide
levels were expected and rainfall of 6 to 10 inches , with
isolated deluges of 18 inches, possible over southern Baja
California, it said.

Many vacationers were taking no chances and flew home,
creating long lines at Los Cabos airport. One luxury hotel sent
its guests to San Diego, California, by bus.

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 stranded tens of thousands
of tourists for days.

(Additional reporting by Armando Tovar in Los Cabos and
Chris Aspin and Gunther Hamm in Mexico City)