Mexico evacuates thousands ahead of hurricane

Mexico evacuates thousands ahead of hurricane

Heavy winds, battering waves and intense rain pummeled residents and tourists in this vacation resort as Hurricane Jimena, one of the largest hurricanes this year, raked the coast late Tuesday, Associated Press reported.

Baja California prepared shelters to hold up to 29,000 people as Jimena, which weakened to a still threatening Category 3, churned northward offshore. But the state's biggest resort, Los Cabos, appeared to escape major damage from the storm beyond power outages and mud-choked roads.

Jimena was on course to pass west of Los Cabos and up the coast early Wednesday, close enough to punish the picturesque beaches and fishing villages that fringe the harsh desert of the long Baja peninsula.

Ashley Legeyt, 62, a retiree from British Columbia who lives in Cabo San Lucas, pushed through the oncoming storm onto an exposed rocky point where he leaned against the onslaught of the hurricane's outer winds.

"It's like getting sandblasted with water!" said Legeyt, his back to the wind, sand and spray blowing in from the ocean. "It's quite strong."

The Mexican government declared a state of emergency for Los Cabos and the Baja California Sur state capital of La Paz and schools, many ports and most businesses were closed. Rescue workers from the Red Cross and the Mexican military prepared for post-hurricane disaster relief, and two Mexican army Hercules aircraft flew in medical supplies.

Authorities reported no injuries or major damages in Los Cabos, but expressed concern about what might happen when the hurricane made landfall further up the coast.

"It could be ugly at Bahia Magdalena," state Interior Secretary Luis Armanado Diaz said, referring to a sparsely populated bay with a smattering of fishing villages farther up the coast. State officials predicted landfall would come in an even more desolate stretch of coast, north of Magdalena.

Diaz said the hurricane might actually help alleviate the state's drought.

"If it continues like this, and there is not a major impact, it will help more than it will hurt," said Diaz, referring to the much-needed rain.

Huge waves battered the shore near Cabo San Lucas, and residents and tourists gathered to watch the show as the wind whipped up sand and salt spray.

Los Cabos resident Eduardo Meraz, 25, went swimming in the pounding surf at the height of the storm, and - still dripping wet - said he liked it.

"I'm not afraid. I respect the sea," said Meraz. "The water is nice but the waves really toss you around."

Paula Arenas took her 2-year-old nephew Mauro out to a rock outcropping to see the hurricane.

"I've spent a lot of time living here. We are used to hurricanes," Arenas said.

Receptionist Martha Pina stood in awe at the entrance to the SolMar hotel on the very tip of the peninsula, watching the mountains of roiling, white-capped water slamming into the coast just yards (meters) beyond the hotel's swimming pool.

"This is the first time I've seem them so big ... It is beautiful," Pina said.

All the hotel's guests - many of whose rooms were just steps from the maelstrom of the sea - had been transferred to another hotel as a precaution.

Not everyone was enchanted with Jimena's raging show.

Martin Melchior, a 25-year-old construction worker, stood outside his plywood, tin-roofed shack and nervously eyed the thin, battered power cables that snake over the sodden ground in the Cactus shantytown where he lives, the result of hundreds of unregistered hookups to the city's power system.

But even as police trucks moved through the muddy streets urging people to join an estimated 2,000 residents already in shelters, Melchior said he wouldn't go.

"There are too many people in the shelters, and you can't get any peace. Someone tells you: 'This is my space,'" he said.

Francisco Cota, head of Los Cabos civil defense, said more than 2,000 people from low-lying neighborhoods and squatters' camps had sought refuge in shelters at schools, and many more were staying with relatives in safer areas.

Many docks and most businesses stayed shuttered. Children ran through strong gusts of wind waving pieces of paper and trash bags under bands of intermittent rain. Forecasters predicted the hurricane would drop 5 to 10 inches of rain in Baja, and dry stream beds already were gushing torrents.

Most tourists had already fled by Tuesday, leaving 75 percent of hotel rooms vacant. Some of those who remained came out to see the storm with avid anticipation, fighting the winds and rain at the shore.

Hurricane chaser Brian Osburn of Pensacola, Florida, stood on a beach in high tech gear and protective padding while holding a plastic-encased, submersible high-definition video camera to record the pounding surge and gusts.

"I think Cabo San Lucas is still in for a good blow," Osburn said, holding his waterproof microphone into the shrieking winds.

Others wandered deserted streets, some ankle-deep in water, enjoying the storm.

"We're going to go get some more liquor and go back to the room and just watch it," Mark Lopez, 29, a truck dispatcher from San Jose, California, said as he walked near a marina with a half-dozen friends. "We're making the most of it."

Many slum dwellers concerned about looting refused to leave their imperiled shanties.

Marco Nino, 24, a bricklayer, warily eyed a growing stream that rushed past his plywood and sheet metal home.

"We are here with our nerves on edge," he said. "If this hits, the roof is not going to hold. Other storms have passed but not this strong."

By Tuesday evening, Jimena had weakened slightly, with winds of 120 mph (195 kph), still a major hurricane with potential to do huge damage. It was located 85 miles (135 kilometers) west-southwest of Cabo San Lucas and traveling northwest near 12 mph (19 kph).

Local officials say Hurricane Juliet, also a Category 4 hurricane on a similar course that killed several people and caused $20.5 million in September 2001, was the most damaging hurricane in the storm-prone state's history. That 145-mph (230 kph) storm made a raging 12-day trip through Mexico and the southern United States.

Farther out in the Pacific, Tropical Depression Kevin had top winds of 35 mph (55 kph) and was expected to weaken to a remnant low.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Erika formed in the open Atlantic, east of Antigua and Barbuda. The storm had top winds around 50 mph (80 kph), and could grow stronger in the next couple of days.

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