October 21, 2005

Wilma gives Mexican tourists no respite

By Noel Randewich

CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) - Sullen tourists grabbed sleep in
damp shelters and played cards by candlelight after Hurricane
Wilma turned their vacations in Mexico's Caribbean playground
into a soggy nightmare

Wind smashed windows at an international hotel in the beach
resort of Cancun and water gushed into rooms, forcing guests to
try to sleep in bathrooms or corridors.

"The wind blew the door off the hinges so I moved the
mattress into the hallway," said caterer Steve McGlawn from
California, trying to rest with his wife and children while
winds roared in the dark outside.

Rainwater poured down the elevator shaft into the lobby and
American tourists tried to repair boarded-up windows broken by
high wind gusts at a conference room in the hotel being used as
a shelter.

Wilma, a dangerous Category 4 hurricane, slammed into the
"Maya Riviera" of long, white beaches and huge hotels, on
Friday with screaming winds that knocked over houses and
upturned trees. It was due to hit Florida on Sunday or Monday.

Thousands of tourists were trapped in cramped shelters on
the Mexican coast for the second night in a row. European
visitors who had been in good spirits on Thursday began to grow
ill-tempered as the storm raged on.

"The trouble is, you don't know how long it is going to go
on for. You don't know anything," said glum Swiss vacationer
Christen Jasmin, 19, sitting in the half light in the dining
room of a hotel in the Playa del Carmen resort.

"It's boring," complained her boyfriend Ruesch Matthias.

Hotel staff tried to keep spirits up by handing out free
coffee and sandwiches.

Water was cut, off so guests drew water from the swimming
pool with buckets to use in the toilet.

Contact was lost for more than an hour with the island of
Cozumel, one of the world's top scuba diving spots, when winds
knocked over a telephone mast.

The wind and rain ripped out lush, tropical vegetation.

"My trees are down, my mango, my avocado, my mamey tree is
down, some of my palm trees are down," said Kathleen Martin
Kopelman, owner of the Amigo's Bed and Breakfast five blocks
from the ocean on Cozumel.

Many tourists had never seen anything like the awesome
power of Wilma, a slow-moving storm that briefly broke a record
for low barometric pressure earlier this week.

"I've been in blizzards but this goes on for ages," said
Brooke Costello, a honeymooning New Yorker.

(Additional reporting by Lorraine Orlandi)