September 2, 2006

Hurricane John pummels Baja peninsula

By Noel Randewich and Armando Tovar

LOS CABOS, Mexico (Reuters) - Hurricane John roared up
Mexico's Baja California peninsula early on Saturday, after
forcing thousands of tourists and residents in this posh beach
resort into shelters to escape high winds and lashing rain.

But the Los Cabos resort, popular with U.S. tourists and
famed for its beaches and Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses,
dodged a bullet when John did not make a direct hit.

Rescue workers said their main worries were for the
less-elegant tourist port of La Paz, capital of Baja California
Sur state and home to about 200,000 residents.

Overnight heavy rain flooded the main roads of La Paz,
which was expected to be pummeled by John as it rode up the
east coast of the narrow peninsula.

Vacationers in Los Cabos, where bracing winds still
whistled, started to go back to their rooms late Friday after
their five-star hotels had forced them to sit the day out on
mattresses in shelters set up in conference rooms.

Tourists that stayed to wait out the storm or were stranded
when they could not change flights were itching to hit the
beach and start partying. But they were forced to wait until
later Saturday when bars were expected to reopen.

"I want to enjoy Cabos, go clubbing and go to the beach,"
said Lisa Perez. who was on a break from running her furniture
store in California.

Local residents in Los Cabos were less fortunate, however,
as rescue workers forced them to spend a second night in the
shelters set up for people living in areas that were in
imperiled by flooding and winds.


"Nobody is leaving until the red alert is lifted," David
Manriquez, deputy director of Civil Protection in Los Cabos,
told Reuters. "That might happen Saturday morning."

John maintained its Category 2 strength that brought winds
of nearly 105 mph (165 kph), although further weakening is
expected later Saturday.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm was 40
miles southeast of La Paz and creeping northwest.

The storm was forecast to rumble up the peninsula and
eventually edge out into the Pacific Ocean, posing no threat to
the United States.

Coastal storm surges of up to 5 feet above normal tide
levels were expected and rainfall of six to 12 inches, with
isolated deluges of 18 inches (46 cm), possible over southern
Baja California, the center said.

Many vacationers in Los Cabos took no chances and flew home
early, 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 Chris Aspin and Gunther Hamm in
Mexico City)