Sat, Oct 29, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Mexican islanders forcibly evicted ahead of storm


Tropical Storm Rina brushed between Mexico’s Caribbean coast and the island of Cozumel on Thursday, lashing the area with wind and rain, as the Mexican Navy moved to forcibly evacuate some residents who refused to leave a low-lying island well north of the storm.

Playa de Carmen, a resort town across from Cozumel, was left without electricity and streets were largely empty as Rina swept the coast just 30km west of Cozumel with winds of about 95kph.

The storm was moving north at about 11kph and was expected to move inland and start weakening by early yesterday.

Many tourists had already abandoned resorts around Cancun and the Riviera Maya ahead of what once threatened to be a Category 3 hurricane.

The Mexican Navy took mandatory evacuation orders so seriously that it sent boats to Holbox Island, about 160km north of where the storm was expected to hit, to haul out by force about 80 residents who had refused to leave and hidden on the island during an earlier evacuation of about 2,300 people.

At least eight cruise ships changed itineraries away from the storm’s path.

Lines snaked from ticket counters in Cancun’s crowded airport on Wednesday as jumbo airliners heading to Canada and Europe waited in pouring rain.

State Tourism Director Juan Carlos Gonzalez Hernandez estimated that 10,000 tourists had left by Wednesday night.

NASA cut short an undersea mission near Key Largo, Florida, bringing the crew back to land.

Schools were closed in communities along the coast and on Cozumel in anticipation of the storm.

Ports also closed to navigation for recreational, fishing and small boats in the state of Quintana Roo, home to Cancun, and neighboring Yucatan State, while the island of Cozumel was closed to larger vessels, including the ferry that connects the island and Playa del Carmen.

However, some decided to ride out the weakened Rina. Early on Thursday in Playa del Carmen, tourists and residents strolled along the promenade and the beach under cloudy but not-yet-rainy weather. At the beach, lifeguards put out red flags warning people not to swim.

“We would prefer to lie on the beach and get in the ocean, but right now all we can do is walk around and go shopping,” said Vera Kohler, a 27-year-old tourist from Frankfurt, Germany, who arrived on Wednesday and planned to stay in the area until tomorrow.

Domenico Cianni, a retired restaurateur from Vancouver, Canada, said he also prepared for a hurricane by buying extra food and beer and putting shutters on the windows of his rental home. After hearing Rina had been downgraded to a tropical storm he decided to join tourists on Playa del Carmen’s pier.

“We were curious about what’s happening. We wanted to be part of the action,” Cianni said.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for the Caribbean coast from Punta Allen to San Felipe.

Mexico’s government said it was sending nearly 2,400 electrical workers plus cranes, vehicles and generators to repair and maintain services as quickly as possible after the storm.

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