Sun, Sep 03, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Hurricane spares top Mexican resorts

LITTLE IMPACT While some tourists were getting antsy at having to stay in shelters, local residents were more than relieved to have escaped a direct hit from John

AP , CABO SAN LUCAS, MEXICO

US tourists wait in a shelter for Hurricane John to hit the shores on Friday in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, Mexico.

PHOTO: AFP

Fierce but compact Hurricane John slammed into a stretch of sparsely populated desert on Mexico's Baja California peninsula, its most dangerous winds failing to extend far enough to touch the glittering twin resorts of Los Cabos.

"Fortunately ... we don't have a direct hit," said Luis Armando Diaz, mayor of the municipality encompassing both resorts of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.

But, he added, "that doesn't remove the possibility that we could still be affected."

While Los Cabos' high-rise hotels showed little impact, it was hard to immediately assess how the storm may have affected the community's poorest areas, where construction workers, waiters, cooks and cham-bermaids live in shantytowns, many built along dry riverbeds. Thou-sands evacuated to shelters were discouraged from returning to their homes late on Friday.

"Our house could just blow away in the wind," said Olga Lidia Aguilar, 32, who was evacuated along with her five children from her tarpaper shack in the shantytown of Lagunita.

The center of the Category 2 storm came ashore near the isolated hamlets of Boca de la Vinorama and Los Barriles, about 65km northeast of San Jose del Cabo.

John was centered 65km southeast of La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur state, and was moving north-northwest at 16kph.

It had maximum sustained winds of 180kph, but forecasters said it could weaken as it heads toward La Paz, before crossing the narrow peninsula and heading out to sea.

Mexico extended hurricane warnings northward along the east of the peninsula to the community of Mulege and until Punta Abreojos on the west coast. Few people live in the vast stretch of territory north of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, however.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm was so small that its strongest winds only extended about 32km out from its eye.

"Cabo San Lucas is fairly sheltered and they have missed the worst of it," said Chris Sisko, a meteorologist at the center.

Some streets were flooded in Cabo San Lucas, but the water was merely ankle-deep at its height. Stores reopened two hours after hurricane-force winds first lashed the peninsula before 8pm and residents antsy from spending all day in shelters emerged into the streets, where some started a pickup soccer game.

Despite the close call, there was little open jubilation; most of Cabo San Lucas' bars, restaurants and liquor stores remained shuttered. A passing group of US tourists, asked what they planned to do after the hurricane passed, shouted "party!" But there was almost nowhere to do so.

The local population was more relieved.

"We thank God, because the storm didn't do us any damage," said Los Cabos resident Natividad Garcia, 67, as she waited outside a hotel for a relative to finish work.

In San Jose del Cabo, a brief bout of heavy winds toppled the signs of shops and sent metal gates flying in the air. But there were no reports of major damage.

Richard Carter, 42, of Oakland, California, was annoyed by what he said was a needless call for guests to move to the shelter within his hotel. He instead stayed in his hotel room.

The lack of information and the closure of almost all the resort's stores and restaurants also irked him.

"It could have been much better handled," he said. "It was absurd."

Miles away from the glittering coastal hotels, 46-year-old bricklayer Francisco Casas waited for John to pass in a schoolroom with his 14-year-old son. 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.

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