Hurricane Wilma kills at least 7 in Mexico
Updated: 2005-10-23 15:54
Hurricane Wilma punished Mexico's Caribbean coastline for a second day
Saturday, ripping away storefronts, peeling back roofs and forcing tourists and
residents trapped in hotels and shelters to scramble to higher floors. At least
seven people were killed.
crowd a classroom after being forced from their hotels during Hurricane
Wilma on Saturday Oct. 22, 2005 in Cancun, Mexico. Hurricane Wilma
punished Mexico's Caribbean coastline for a second day Saturday, ripping
away storefronts, peeling back roofs and forcing tourists and residents
trapped in hotels and shelters to scramble to higher floors. At least
three people were killed. [AP]
On the island
of Cozumel off the Yucatan peninsula coast, a navy rescue mission sighted three
bodies floating down a flooding avenue and a fourth in a town square. Cozumel
has been isolated since weathering the brunt of the storm on Friday. Earlier,
officials reported three other deaths from the storm.
Waves slammed into seaside pools and sent water surging over the narrow strip
of sand housing Cancun's luxury hotels and raucous bars, joining the sea with
the alligator-infested lagoon. Downtown, winds tore banks open, leaving
automatic teller machines standing in knee-deep water.
Wilma, which had weakened to a Category 2 as it inched northward with
sustained winds near 100 mph, was expected to pick up speed Sunday, sideswiping
Cuba before it slams into Florida.
Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, predicted
the storm would pick up speed and its top winds would increase dramatically on
"It's really going to take off like a rocket," he said. "It's going to start
moving like 20 mph."
Early Sunday, the storm was slowly moving back over the Caribbean Sea, and
rains and winds were easing in Cancun.
A hurricane watch was issued Saturday for the entire southern Florida
peninsula, with heavy rain from Wilma's outer bands already causing hip-deep
flooding in the Fort Lauderdale. At the same time, a record 22nd tropical storm
¡ª Alpha ¡ª formed in the Atlantic.
As Wilma's eye passed over Cancun on Saturday, the air became calm and eerily
electric. Some residents ventured briefly from their hiding spots to survey the
flooded, debris-filled streets.
Several dozen people looted at least four convenience stores, carrying out
bags of canned tuna, pasta and soda, while others dragged tables, chairs and
lamps from a destroyed furniture store. Police were guarding only larger stores,
including a downtown Wal-Mart and an appliance store.
An outing during the eye's calm revealed a downtown Cancun littered with
glass, tree trunks and cars up to their roofs in water. The only cleanup crew
visible consisted of two workers using saws to break up a tangle of tree
branches. The front half of a Burger King had collapsed, and at least one gas
station had its roof blown away.
State and federal officials said they had little information on damage
because Wilma's winds made reconnaissance almost impossible.
Yucatan Gov. Patricio Patron told Formato 21 radio that one person was killed
by a falling tree, but he offered no details. And in Playa del Carmen, two
people died from injuries they sustained Friday when a gas tank exploded during
the storm, Quintana Roo state officials said.
The storm earlier killed 13 people in Jamaica and Haiti.
Quintana Roo State Civil Protection Director Maj. Jose Nemecio said a few
emergency crews were able to begin distributing emergency supplies in Playa del
Carmen on Saturday. But there were few reports on the overall extent of the
"We really know nothing. There are no telephones, no cell phones," he said.
"We have no news from Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Cozumel. I think this is going
to be a catastrophic situation."
Added Quintana Roo Gov. Felix Gonzalez Cantu: "Never in the history of
Quintana Roo have we had a storm like this."
On Cozumel, fruit and vegetable salesman Jorge Ham, 26, told The Associated
Press by phone that winds had dropped significantly. He saw no catastrophic
damage during a brief tour of downtown Saturday.
"There are broken windows, downed trees, fallen power lines, but nothing
else," he said. "People have taken shelter."
In Playa del Carmen, to the south of Cancun, screaming winds flattened
wood-and-tarpaper houses and sent water tanks and plywood sheets flying.
In Cancun, the storm's angry winds ripped roofing off luxury hotels and
knocked out windows, filling rooms and shelters with water and forcing some
evacuees to seek higher ground. Others slept with plastic sheeting as bedding.
The wind ripped part of the ceiling off a gymnasium-turned-shelter, forcing
the evacuation of more than 1,000 people. Stacy Presley, a 22-year-old
honeymooner from Milwaukee, was among them.
She and 120 others were moved to a kindergarten where evacuees were forced to
use plastic water bottles instead of bathrooms and sleep on miniature desks
nearly submerged in rising flood waters. There was also no food.
On Saturday, she and her husband fled when the winds died down.
"There were people getting sick from the urine on the floor," she said. "We
had to do something, so we took off. We were running through flooded streets,
passing downed power lines."
She ended up at another school sheltering more than 2,000 people. It had mats
to sleep on, emergency officials and supplies.
Nearby, Loni Steingraph, 40, of Austin, Texas, praised the shelter, saying:
"I booked a four-star hotel, I didn't know it would include a four-star shelter
Hotel workers pushed furniture up against windows, but the force of the wind
blasted through the improvised barriers.
In the streets, office furniture and broken glass bobbed in water that
sloshed between buildings. Residents watched the debris float by from upstairs
balconies. Buildings shook in the wind as if earthquakes were hitting them,
terrifying tourists and residents waiting out the storm in sweltering, dark
Benjamin Rodriguez, 49, of Cleveland, spent the night in a classroom with his
11-month-old granddaughter. He and several others had to lean against a door
that the wind kept shoving open.
"I feel for the citizens here because we get to go home eventually," said
Rodriguez, who came with 32 family members for his son's wedding. "They have to
stay and rebuild everything that was destroyed."
President Vicente Fox planned to travel to the affected region on Sunday. In
a taped address to the nation, he said that, while the Mexican government was
taking care of thousands of stranded tourists, it hadn't forgotten its citizens.
"Make no mistake. Our priority, our job ... is with our own people," he said.
The army and navy was already preparing emergency supplies, including food,
water, medicine and roofing, in various southern cities. Fox said it will be
sent in as soon as possible.
The U.S. Embassy was sending consular officials to shelters Sunday, an effort
to help people prepare for the evacuation of some 30,000 tourists after the
At 1 a.m. Sunday EDT, Wilma was drifting northeast with maximum sustained
winds near 100 mph. It was located about 55 miles north of Cancun, Mexico or
about 370 miles west-southwest of Key West, Florida.
Even as it battered Mexico, the storm's outer bands whipped the western tip
of Cuba, where the government evacuated more than 500,000 people. A tornado spun
off from the storm flattened 20 homes and several tobacco-curing huts.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Alpha formed Saturday in the Caribbean Sea, setting
the record for the most number of storms in an Atlantic hurricane season,
forecasters said. Alpha is the season's 22nd tropical storm and marks the first
time a letter from the Greek alphabet has been used because the list of storm
names is used up. The previous record of 21 storms stood since 1933.
Late Saturday, Alpha had sustained winds of about 50 mph, and was located
about 55 miles southwest of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, and moving
northwest at about 14 mph, the Hurricane Center said.
Authorities in Haiti and the Dominican Republic warned of deadly flash floods
and mudslides from Tropical Storm Alpha. Meteorologist Ignacio Feliz of the
Dominican weather service said authorities expected heavy rain but had not yet
Associated Press writers Israel Leal in Cancun; Vanessa Arrington in Pinar
del Rio, Cuba; Lisa J. Adams and Niko Price in Mexico City; and David Royse in
Key West, Florida contributed to this report.