By Gerardo Esquerre
Hurricane Odile uprooted trees and shook buildings as it bore down on Mexico’s tourist haven of Baja California on Sunday, prompting the evacuation of thousands from the path of one of the worst recorded storms to slam the region’s luxury resorts.
Powerful winds around the eye of the storm were projected to rake the hotels of Los Cabos late Sunday and into Monday, pounding the south of the mountainous desert peninsula with huge waves and heavy rains that could unleash dangerous flash floods.
Winds up to 125 miles per hour (205 kph) ripped trees out by their roots and blew signposts out of the ground, according to a Reuters witness.
At least 26,000 foreign tourists and 4,000 Mexicans were in the region, according to Mexican officials, while emergency workers and military personal evacuated people from areas at risk of flooding.
Odile lost some strength on Sunday afternoon but it was expected to cross the southern tip of the peninsula as a Category 3 storm late Sunday and early Monday before starting to weaken, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Storm experts said it was set to be the strongest hurricane to hit the southern tip of the peninsula since Kiko in 1989, which landed as a Category 3 hurricane.
“We haven’t seen one get so close and with the possibility of impact, and of such a nature,” said Wenceslao Petit, head of emergency services in Los Cabos. “There aren’t words for this.”
In Cabo San Lucas, people rushed to board up windows, clear beach furniture and remove fishing boats and yachts from the water into dry docks ahead of the storm’s approach.
“If it doesn’t lose intensity, this is going to do some damage,” said Rosalio Salas, 59, who works at Picante sport fishing charters in Cabo San Lucas.
“The people that live here are used to this, but the people here for the first time are a little scared,” he said.
The storm packed winds of up to 125 miles per hour (205 kph) and Odile was projected to lash southern Baja with strong winds and dump heavy rains into Tuesday, the hurricane center said.
Restaurants and businesses in Cabo San Lucas closed ahead of the storm, leaving tourists stuck in hotel rooms and lobbies.
Francesco Francavigilia, 36, a tourist from Rome on his first visit to Los Cabos, had to suspend his vacation of sunbathing and swimming to watch movies on his tablet computer.
Even though it was his first hurricane, he said, he was not afraid. “The people from here are not worried, so why should I worry?” Francavigilia said.
While other beaches in Mexico are packed with tourists during the long weekend to Tuesday’s Independence Day holiday, the resorts of Los Cabos are mostly visited by Americans and are in their low season.
The Mexican government declared a hurricane warning for southern Baja and a tropical storm warning for parts of the Pacific coast.
Luis Puente, the head of Mexico’s civil protection agency, said in a news conference that 164 shelters had been readied with a capacity for 30,000 people.