Cancun Area Resorts Empty as Hurricane Approaches

By OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ | October 28, 2011

Tourists abandoned Cancun and other resorts while Mexican authorities evacuated hundreds of residents from low-lying areas ahead of a weakened Hurricane Rina’s pass along Yucatan’s Caribbean coast Thursday.

Civil protection officials moved some 2,300 people from Holbox, an island where the Caribbean meets the Gulf of Mexico, and the federal government closed the archaeological sites that dot the coast. NASA cut short an undersea laboratory mission near Key Largo, Florida, bringing the crew back to land.

Lines snaked from ticket counters in Cancun’s crowded airport Wednesday as jumbo airliners heading to Canada and Europe waited in pouring rain. Many travelers said they were already scheduled to leave on Wednesday. But Janet Gallo, 41, of New York City decided to cut short her five-day trip to the town of Playa del Carmen.

“At the hotel, they told us they would make a decision whether to evacuate later today, but we didn’t want to wait. We would rather be home when it hits,” Gallo said.

Ports closed to navigation for recreational, fishing and small boats in the state of Quintana Roo, home to Cancun, and neighboring Yucatan state, while the island of Cozumel was closed to larger vessels, including the ferry that connects the island and Playa del Carmen.

Rina was forecast to sweep along Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations of Cancun, Cozumel and the Riviera Maya, though forecasters predicted it could weaken to tropical storm force during the day.

Rina’s maximum sustained winds were near 75 mph (120 kph) early Thursday, down from 110 mph (175 kph) on Wednesday. It was about 115 miles (190 kilometers) south of the island of Cozumel and was moving northwest at about 6 mph (9 kph).

About 275 people living in the fishing town of Punta Allen, south of Tulum, were moved to emergency shelters and a smaller group was evacuated from the atoll of Banco Chinchorro.

Luh McDevitt, 56, a furniture and interior designer in Cozumel, said her family was fitting hurricane shutters to the house and securing furniture.

“I am not really scared,” said the Cincinnati, Ohio, native who has lived in Cozumel since 2000. “Hurricane Andrew in 1992 was a Category 5. The worst part of the hurricane is after. We didn’t have electricity in our house for three weeks.”

Mexico’s government said it was sending nearly 2,400 electrical workers plus cranes, vehicles and generators to repair and maintain services as quickly as possible after the storm.

Jorge Arturo Cruz, spokesman for Quintana Roo’s education department, said schools were ordered closed in communities along the coast and on Cozumel in anticipation of the storm.

The coastal area around Tulum is dotted with Mayan ruins and farther north is Playa del Carmen, another popular spot for international tourists and the departure point for ferries serving Cozumel.

State Tourism Director Juan Carlos Gonzalez Hernandez said there had been about 83,000 tourists in the state, with about 28,000 of them in Cancun and 45,000 more on the stretch of coast south of Cancun that includes Tulum and Playa de Carmen.

He estimated 10,000 tourists had left by Wednesday night. There were only about 1,719 tourists on Cozumel, and many of them had left, he said.

At least eight cruise ships were changing itineraries away from the storm’s path, said a spokesman for Carnival Cruise Lines, Vance Gulliksen.

The area was badly damaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, when Cancun’s white-sand beaches were largely washed away. Insurance officials estimated total damage at $3 billion.

A hurricane warning was in effect for the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula from north of Punta Gruesa to Cancun.

The projected track showed Rina curving east toward Cuba and the Straits of Florida after crossing the eastern tip of Yucatan, though the U.S. National Hurricane Center cautioned “there is great uncertainty as to where Rina will be located by the weekend.”

(Associated Press writer Adriana Gomez Licon in Mexico City contributed to this story.)

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