Thu, Oct 27, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Stranded tourists want out of Cancun

LONG WAIT About half of the estimated 40,000 tourists who were in the area during Hurricane Wilma are still there, with conflicting information causing frustration


Thousands have gotten out, but thousands more tourists remain stranded in this Caribbean resort city pounded for two days by Hurricane Wilma.

Tourism officials estimated that mostly charter flights took about 6,000 people out of Cancun airport on Tuesday, while thousands more were bused to planes in Merida, a 280km trip that normally takes four hours but which has been lengthened by heavy traffic and partially flooded roads.

"Enough's enough," Paul Bracey, 45, of Wales, said at a hotel serving as a shelter in Cancun as he waited for a bus to Merida late on Tuesday night. "We're still stranded, and have been told six days of lies. Soon we can have something real to eat, have a shower."

Officials said about 22,000 foreign tourists remained in the area on Tuesday, down from a peak of almost 40,000 during the storm.

There was still had no solid estimate of the damage caused by Wilma, which lashed the coast on Friday and Saturday and wiped out the heart of Mexico's US$11 billion foreign tourism industry, even washing away much of Cancun's famed white beachfront.

Aurelio Fernandez 35, a carpenter from Spain said he planned to fly back on a charter flight from Merida yesterday, leaving behind a suitcase at a Cancun airport locker.

"I'm leaving, but my bag isn't," said Fernandez, said at a hotel where he was evacuated; officials cleared the school where he was originally sheltered after looting broke out in the area.

"It was the most refreshing of my life," Fernandez said of a shower he took at a hotel still being used a shelter, the first he had had in five days.

Cancun was still without electricity on Tuesday, but generators began to hum to life as gasoline became more widely available, bringing light and water back to many hotels.

Colonel Robert Martin, defense attache for the British embassy, said 8,000 British tourists were still in Cancun.

"There are 200 hotels and 150 shelters here," Martin said. "It takes time to reach them all."

Eric and Michelle Joseph, honeymooners from San Jose, California, said that a river of human waste had run through hallways at the hotel where 1,200 tourists were sheltered during the storm.

At the height of the flooding, tourists had to use a ladder to climb out of the hotel from the second floor because of flooding.

"Our whole family is calling senators, congressman and Governor Schwarzenegger," said Eric Joseph, 26. "My Cingular [cellular phone] bill is probably going to be US$3,000."

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