Major hurricane heads toward Mexican coast
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LOS CABOS, Mexico -- Heavy winds, battering waves and bands of intense rain pummeled residents and tourists in this vacation resort as Hurricane Jimena, one of the largest hurricanes this year, neared the coast yesterday.
The center of the roaring hurricane, which weakened to a still-threatening Category 3, was on course to pass west of Los Cabos late yesterday or early today, close enough to punish the picturesque beaches and fishing villages that fringe the harsh desert.
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!" he said, 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 loaded with medical supplies arrived.
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 local schools, and many more were staying with relatives in safer areas. Another 5,000 people have been evacuated, and 159 shelters with a capacity for 29,000 people now stand ready, state civil protection spokesman Luis Armando Diaz.
While the storm's eye was forecast to pass west and north of the city, another 20,000 were expected to evacuate elsewhere in the peninsula. Schools, many ports and most businesses were closed. Children ran through strong gusts of wind yesterday, waving pieces of paper and trash bags under bands of intermittent rain.
Forecasters expect the hurricane to leave between 5 and 10 inches of rain in Baja, but already the dry stream beds had turned into gushing torrents.
Hank and Maureen Butt, from Los Gatos, Calif., snapped photos outside their Cab San Lucas Hotel, enjoying the driving winds. "The waves have been great," said Maureen Butt, an intensive care nurse.
"I think we're going to be out of harm's way as far as major damage," her husband said. "We're in a very good structure here."
Most tourists had already fled by yesterday, leaving 75 percent of hotel rooms vacant. But some of those who remained came out to see the storm with avid anticipation, fighting the winds and intermittent bands of rain at the shore.
Hurricane chaser Brian Osburn of Pensacola, Fla., stood on a beach in high-tech gear and protective padding while holding a plastic-encased, submersible high-definition video camera to take shots of the pounding surge and gusts. "I think Cabo San Lucas is still in for a good blow," he said, holding his waterproof microphone into the shrieking winds.
Many slum dwellers concerned about looting refused to leave their imperiled shanties. Marco Nina, 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 last evening, Jimena had weakened slightly, with winds of 120 mph, still a major hurricane with potential to do huge damage. It was located 85 miles west-southwest of Cabo San Lucas and traveling northwest near 12 mph.
First Published September 2, 2009 12:00 am