Hurricane John sweeps over Baja California, weakens to tropical storm

Sunday, September 3rd 2006, 9:47 am
By: News On 6

CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico (AP) _ Tropical Storm John threatened to cause flash floods and mudslides Sunday as it passed over Mexico's Baja California peninsula, drenching local fishing villages and American vacationers after throwing a scare at the luxury resorts of Los Cabos.

John was a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 110 mph when it hit the southern tip of the peninsula late Friday, but officials reported no deaths and relatively little major damage, though some shantytown shacks were blown down.

By Sunday, the storm was hurling rain on the normally arid Baja, threatening to cause flash floods. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said 6 to 12 inches of rain were possible. It was expected to be downgraded to a tropical depression later in the day.

The storm was about 20 miles west-southwest of the fishing and tourism village of Mulege after slogging past Loreto, which is being developed as a massive resort aimed at U.S. visitors and retirees.

The airport serving Los Cabos reopened Saturday, and lines of tourists formed to catch flights out of the still largely shuttered beach towns, their vacations spoiled. The airport was closed Thursday night as the storm approached.

``We planned on six days of sport fishing, and we got one,'' said Dave Rhode of Santa Barbara, Calif., who had his boat taken out of the water Thursday as the hurricane neared.

Asked if he would return to this normally sun-dappled coast, Rhode answered ``we always come back.''

While hotels in Cabo San Lucas mopped up small puddles of water in their marble-floored lobbies, the poorest residents of Cabo San Lucas _ hotel employees or construction workers who at best earn $20 per day _ surveyed the damage to their fragile shacks in nearby shantytowns.

``I lost the roof of my house,'' said construction worker Jose Manuel Payen Fabela, 46, referring to his two-room tarpaper shack in a squatters' camp known as Tierra y Libertad.

Payen spent Friday night with his eight children and 19 other people on thin foam pads in a small government-run emergency shelter.

The storm was a varying experience for tourists taking shelter in marble-lobbied hotels and members of the local population who build and staff them.

``They had an open bar and a little DJ come in,'' said Tim Anderson, a highway administration employee from Alamosa, Colo., who waited out the hurricane in a hotel in San Jose del Cabo.

But Ruben Moreno, 32, a bricklayer, saw the hurricane from a different perspective, huddled in his shack made of tarpaper, tin and plastic tarps in one of Cabo San Lucas' shantytowns.

``The wind came through hard, early in the morning,'' said Moreno, who defied evacuation orders and waited out the hurricane at his home.

Nearby, a stream of water had coursed through the camp, piling mud and sand in its wake. At least two of his neighbors' jury-rigged, wood-frame shacks had collapsed, leaving a mix of plastic sheeting, tarpaper and blankets in the sand.

John knocked out electricity, downed trees and sent billboards flying in La Paz, a city of more than 150,000 people.

Los Cabos Mayor Luis Armando Diaz said homes had been damaged and a highway cut off farther along the coast where the storm hit, between his city and La Paz. In one of those towns, Los Barriles, residents reached by telephone told local radio stations that tin roofs had been ripped from homes.

One man was swept away by floodwaters in a sport utility vehicle Saturday in La Paz, authorities said. He was found alive hours later, clinging to a pile of branches in the middle of the stream. He was in stable condition at a local hospital.

In the famed resort area of Los Cabos, most tourists had returned to their hotel rooms from storm shelters, but most of the resort's businesses remained closed.

Alberto Coppel, president of the Los Cabos hotel association, said no guests were injured and no hotels suffered significant damage.

Scott DeLappe, from San Francisco, California, emerged with his brother Mark and friend Bob Comadaran to trudge the muddied, boarded-up streets of Cabo San Lucas in search of a place to eat.

Comadaran mourned the closure of the resort's nightclubs, and summed up the passage of the hurricane as ``no sun, no liquor, no food, no fun.''

``They were playing it a little too safe,'' DeLappe said of the shuttering of most businesses, but noted there was a solution. ``We can always go to the grocery store to buy bread and meat. It's like camping.''