Saturday, October 22, 2005

Hurricane Wilma Tears Into Mexican Resorts

CANCUN, Mexico - Hurricane Wilma tore into Mexico's resort-studded Caribbean coastline on Friday with torrential rains and shrieking winds, filling streets with water, shattered glass and debris as thousands of tourists hunkered down in hotel ballrooms and emergency shelters.

Packing winds of 140 mph, the storm shattered windows and downed trees that crushed cars on the island of Cozumel, a popular cruise-ship stop. Pay phones jutted from floodwaters in the famed hotel zone.

The fearsome Category 4 storm, which killed 13 people in Haiti and Jamaica, was expected to pummel the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula for two days, sparking fears of catastrophic damage. It is forecast to sideswipe Cuba before bearing down on Florida on Monday.

"Tin roofing is flying through the air everywhere. Palm trees are falling down. Signs are in the air and cables are snapping," Julio Torres told The Associated Press by telephone from the Red Cross office in Cozumel.

"Not even emergency vehicles have been able to go out on the streets, because the winds are too strong."
As Seen On Fox 250x250

Officials said damage assessment teams couldn't reach Cozumel until late Saturday, at the earliest. But Quintana Roo Gov. Felix Gonzalez Cantu, whose state includes Cancun, said the storm had caused "great destruction."

National Hurricane Center in Miami said Wilma officially made landfall about 3:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. EDT), with the center of the storm's eye hitting Cozumel. Seven hours later, the storm finally reached the Yucatan Peninsula, coming ashore between Playa del Carmen and Puerto Morelos, about 11 miles from Cozumel.

The wind bent palm trees and the surf washed away tiki huts on hotel beaches. Power was cut early Friday to most parts of Cancun — a standard safety precaution.

Shop windows were shattered, cars were crushed under fallen trees and pay phones jutted from waist-deep floodwaters in the famed hotel zone.

"I never in my life wanted to live through something like this," said cook Guadalupe Santiago, 27, as howling winds shattered windows and rocked the hotel where she had taken shelter. "There are no words" to describe it, she said.

Officials loaded more than 1,000 people into buses and vans after a downtown cultural center being used as a temporary shelter suddenly became uninhabitable, Cancun Red Cross director Ricardo Portugal said without elaborating.

At the same time, Wilma's outer bands pounded western Cuba, where the government evacuated nearly 370,000 people. Forecasters said Wilma could bring more than 3 feet of rain to parts of Cuba.

Waves of up to 21 feet crashed on the extreme westernmost tip of Cuba and heavy rains cut off several small communities. About 7,000 residents were evacuated from the coastal fishing village of La Coloma in Cuba's southern Pinar del Rio province.

"We thought we'd be spending a lot less time here," Maria Elena Torre said at a shelter set up inside a Cuban boarding school. "Now we have no idea how long we'll be here."

Civil defense official Adolfo Nilo Moreno said the 725 evacuees at the school were likely to remain in place until Tuesday or Wednesday.

"Luckily, we have enough food for four months," primarily rice, chicken, bread and milk, he said

No comments: