Hurricane Emily blasts Mexican beach resorts

Hurricane Emily blasted the world-famous beach resorts on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on Monday, where thousands of tourists were evacuated or took refuge in shelters while the storm toll across the Caribbean rose to seven dead.

The 215kph winds tore down trees and power lines, but no casualties were immediately reported in the coastal resorts around Cancun. Thousands of tourists were evacuated to wait as Emily headed out into the Gulf of Mexico. It was expected to hit land again on the border between Mexico and the American state of Texas.

The hurricane killed four people in Jamaica at the weekend.
They included a 23-year-old woman and her two children who drowned after being swept away by flood waters. A 22-year-old man who tried to rescue them also died, Jamaican police said.

Emily’s violent winds also killed the pilot and co-pilot of a helicopter that was trying to evacuate an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico’s state oil firm Petroleos Mexicanos said. The company said it had evacuated 15 530 workers from oil platforms in the Gulf.

The storm killed one man in a mudslide in Grenada last week.

A Mexican tourism official said a zone about 100km south of Cancun took the main hit from Emily as it crossed the Yucatan Peninsula in south-eastern Mexico.

“Cozumel, Playa del Carmen and Tulum are the hardest hit,” said Jose Reivosa, an official with the Cancun tourist office.

But Felix Gonzalez, governor of Quintana Roo province, which includes Cancun, told Mexican media later that “the worst had passed” without any reports of serious damage and no immediate loss of life.

“The important thing is that there are no casualties among the 50 000 tourists,” he said.

Civil emergency officials said the main damage was fallen trees and power lines.

Emily’s winds eased as it moved across land, but Gonzalez urged the population to remain in shelters.

The United States National Hurricane Centre said that Cozumel had been one of the worst-hit areas.

At noon GMT, the winds had eased to about 160kph, making it a category-two storm on the five level Saffir-Simpson scale, the monitoring centre said, predicting that it will strengthen again when it goes back out to sea.

Hurricane warnings were issued for the other side of the Gulf of Mexico, where Emily is expected to make a second landfall late on Tuesday near the Mexican city of Matamoros and neighbouring Brownsville in Texas.

Thousands of tourists and residents sheltered in barricaded homes and hotels along the so-called Mayan Riviera. Tens of thousands were moved to emergency shelters or out of the area ahead of the storm, officials said.

Cancun’s international airport was closed on Sunday after more than 8 000 tourists flew home.

About 30 000 of the 80 000 tourists in the area cut short their vacations, officials said.

President Vicente Fox deployed truckloads of emergency supplies to threatened areas.

Earlier, Emily roared past Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, packing intense winds and rains but causing less damage than feared apart from the four reported deaths.

“I’m grateful,” Kingston mayor Desmond McKenzie said on Saturday. “It doesn’t seem as bad as we expected.”

Emily is the second major storm to hit the region in two weeks following Hurricane Dennis, which left at least 62 dead, mostly in Haiti.—AFP

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