Hurricane John lashes Mexico's Cabo San Lucas as tourists, slum-dwellers take shelter
Friday, September 1st 2006, 8:53 am
By: News On 6
CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico (AP) _ Hurricane John bore down on the southern tip of Baja California on Friday, forcing tourists to shelter in luxury hotel ballrooms and poor Mexicans to huddle in vacant schoolhouses.
With top sustained winds of 110 mph, the Category 2 hurricane was advancing on the western Mexican peninsula at 8 mph with the storm's center expected to move over land within hours, forecasters said.
Bands of steady rain swelled normally dry stream beds and ran down some streets, but with the eye still 85 miles away Friday afternoon, there was little wind and officials had no immediate reports of damage. John wasn't likely to affect the United States; cooler Pacific waters tend to diminish storms before they reach California.
Known for the rugged beauty of their unique desert-ocean landscapes, the two resort cities of San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas on the southern tip of the Baja peninsula are studded with high-end golf courses. The resorts are extremely popular with sports fishermen _ and celebrities.
Hollywood stars including Demi Moore, Ashton Kucher, Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn visit places like the One and Only _ a hotel where the posted rates go well above $2,000 a night. Keith Richards got married in Cabo San Lucas with Mick Jagger as best man; Christina Aguilera had her bachelorette party there; Jessica Simpson celebrated her 26th birthday there, and Kate Beckinsale's stay was immortalized on the Internet by paparazzi shots of her in a bikini.
On Friday, thousands of tourists who couldn't get flights out prepared to ride out the storm.
``That water wasn't that high a few minutes ago,'' said Dale Broomfield, 26, a nurse from Adelaide, Australia, who negotiated a makeshift plank bridge over water that rose up between his hotel and an adjoining convention hall-turned-shelter in Cabo San Lucas.
Nearby, Guadalupe Amezcua, a 50-year-old tourist from Mexico City, set up camp on one of many mattresses on the floor of the hall, where windowless rooms provided protection from wind.
``This is like an adventure for us, but I've learned now: never travel during hurricane season,'' Amezcua said as she folded her clothes.
``We came for the sun _ and now look!''
Miles away from the glittering coastal hotels, 46-year-old bricklayer Francisco Casas Perez sat outside a schoolroom where he and his 14-year-old son spent the night. They were evacuated from their tin-roofed shack in Tierra y Libertad, one of the squatters camps that dot the sandy flats around Cabo San Lucas.
``We've been asking God to not let it hit too hard,'' he said. ``We could lose all our possessions.''
The Mexican Navy and police evacuated residents, sometimes forcibly, from Tierra y Libertad and other shantytowns, many of which are built next to usually dry riverbeds.
Casas Perez went voluntarily to the shelter, where people slept on thin pads stretched side-by-side over the concrete floor.
``The hurricane is no game, especially where we are surrounded by water on all sides,'' he said.
Up to 8,000 tourists remained in Cabo San Lucas on Friday; hundreds more foreigners are full-time residents. Most visitors are American.
As the storm approached, the Hotel Tesoro told guests they could stay in their rooms at their own risk, but suggested they go the hotel's shelter or hunker down in their bathrooms.
The towns' shops and restaurants were almost all closed, many with their windows boarded up. Hotel workers stripped rooms of light fixtures and furniture, in case plate-glass windows shattered.
Officials closed the airport Thursday night, ending a mad scramble for last-minute flights, and driving out wasn't an option for many _ the one, narrow road north stretches 400 miles to Tijuana on the U.S. border. A tropical storm warning was in effect for the desolate middle stretch of the peninsula, a region dotted with American-owned vacation and retirement homes.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Kristy churned farther out in the Pacific Ocean on Friday, with maximum sustained winds of 58 mph, and forecasters at the U.S. Hurricane Center in Miami said it could eventually be absorbed by John.