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Mexico's Cancun evacuates as Wilma grows, nears
Updated: 2005-10-21 08:51

"You see the lines. I don't want to stand there for two hours and then decide what to do," said Williams, 26.

Increasingly high winds bent palm trees and strong waves gobbled Cancun's white-sand beaches. Officials loaded tourists onto buses after rousting them out of a string of luxury hotels lining the precarious strip between the Caribbean and the Nichupte Lagoon. By Thursday afternoon, the normally busy tourist zone was deserted.

Some, like 30-year-old Carlos Porta of Barcelona, Spain, were handed plastic bags with a pillow and blanket.

A Mexican soldier carries some mattresses for tourists at a shelter in Cancun, state of Quintana Roo, Mexico.
A Mexican soldier carries some mattresses for tourists at a shelter in Cancun, state of Quintana Roo, Mexico.[AFP]
"From a luxury hotel to a shelter. It makes you angry. But what can you do?" he said. "It's just bad luck."

Mayor Francisco Antonio Alor said 20,000 tourists remained in the city Thursday, down from 35,000 the day before. He said he hoped most would be able to fly out on charters, but about 270 shelters in the area were being readied for those who were stuck.

"It's important that the people understand they should leave for their own security," he said. "It is important that they understand the situation is very dangerous."

Early Wednesday, Wilma became the most intense hurricane recorded in the Atlantic. The storm's 882 millibars of pressure broke the record low of 888 set by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. Lower pressure brings faster winds.

Quintana Roo state officials urged the evacuation of nearby islands, and ferries carried throngs to the mainland. But not all agreed to flee.

Asked by telephone if she was leaving Cozumel's Hotel Aguilar where she works, Maite Soberanis replied: "Not for anything. We're in the center of the island. We're protected. We are very secure."

In Cuba, whose tip is just 220 130 miles east of Cancun, civil defense officials said 220,000 people had been evacuated by midday Thursday, most from low-lying areas in the island's west.

Another 14,500 students at boarding schools in rural Havana Province surrounding the nation's capital were sent home to their families.

"We do what is necessary to prevent any problems," said Yahany Canoua, 6 months pregnant as she was waiting to board an evacuation bus in La Colma, a fishing village on Cuba's southwestern coast. Evacuees crowded the buses with children, pet dogs and plastic bags of food.
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