September 2, 2006

Hurricane John downgraded after whipping Mexico

By Antonio Alcantar

LA PAZ, Mexico (Reuters) - Hurricane John was downgraded to
a tropical storm 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 deaths.

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 weakening storm crept up Mexico's Baja California
peninsula, rains eased and electricity was restored in much of
the city of 200,000 people. But main streets were flooded with
ankle-deep 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 Los Cabos to try to escape the

"Now we have to figure out how to get out of here," he
said, as many people 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.

By Saturday afternoon, the U.S. National Hurricane Center
said John had weakened to a tropical storm from a Category 1
hurricane. The storm was still expected to churn up Baja
California before heading out into the Pacific Ocean, posing no
threat to the United States.

The peninsula extends about 680 miles south from the U.S.

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

At Los Cabos, on the peninsula's western tip, thousands of
tourists and locals 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, the remnants of Tropical Storm
Ernesto left more than 400,000 homes without power in the
mid-Atlantic region on Saturday, and two people were reported
dead in storm-related traffic accidents.

(Reporting by Noel Randewich and Armando Tovar in Los