September 2, 2006

Hurricane John whips Mexico’s Baja resorts

By Antonio Alcantar

LA PAZ, Mexico (Reuters) - Hurricane John crept up Mexico's
Baja California peninsula on Saturday after blasting the
tourist port city of La Paz with wicked winds and torrential
rain that knocked out power and flooded streets but caused no

John flattened trees and electric power poles and sent
advertising signs flying overnight in La Paz, popular with
tourists, and the capital of Baja California Sur state.

As the rain eased on Saturday, electricity was restored in
much of the city of 200,000 people but main streets were
ankle-deep in water and the La Paz airport remained closed.

Farther south, the seaside resort of Los Cabos was also
flooded and roads out were impassable as muddy rainwater and
debris from surrounding hills poured down unpaved streets.

"There was a lot of rain. The windows were shaking pretty
good," said Jeff Passama, 27, from San Francisco, who had
driven north to La Paz from Cabo San Lucas to try to escape the

"Now we have to figure out how to get out of here," he
said, as many abandoned their sport utility vehicles after
getting stuck in slushy sand.

After John felled up to 40 power poles in La Paz,
authorities cut off the electricity supply to prevent downed
wires from electrocuting people, rescue workers said.

"We are happy because we have a clean slate," said state
civil protection chief Jose Gajon. "No one was killed."

Before John made landfall on Friday evening as a Category 2
storm, about 4,000 people living in low-lying areas of La Paz
were moved to shelters.


John weakened on Saturday to a Category 1 hurricane with
winds of 75 mph (120 kph). Forecasters said it would lose more
punch as it swirled over the peninsula.

It was set to churn up part of Baja California and then
head out into the Pacific Ocean, posing no threat to the United
States. The peninsula extends about 680 miles south from the
U.S. border.

Ester Aman, owner of the Angel Azul Hotel, said she felt
the old building shaking as John lashed the city. "It was like
a strobe light in the sky," she said of the lightning.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm was
creeping slowly northwest up the peninsula and was now about 50
miles northwest of La Paz.

Coastal storm surges of up to three feet (one meter) with
large battering waves were expected, and rain of six to 12
inches with deluges of 18 inches were possible, the center

At Los Cabos, on the peninsula's western tip, thousands of
tourists and locals also took shelter. Vacationers sat out
Friday on mattresses in conference rooms of five-star hotels.

"The hardest part was the waiting," said hospital secretary
Patty Ruiz from Los Angeles, who had just gotten engaged to her
boyfriend when the hurricane warning came.

Tourists went back to their hotel rooms on Saturday and
were eager to restart their vacations.

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

Local residents were less fortunate, with flooded roads
meaning some faced a third night in shelters.

In the United States, Tropical Storm Ernesto left 400,000
homes without power on Saturday and two people were reported
dead in storm-related traffic accidents.

(Reporting by Noel Randewich and Armando Tovar in Los