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Baja Goes on `Red Alert' as Hurricane Strikes

Authorities declare an emergency as John heads up the peninsula. Hundreds are evacuated, while tourists are forced to ride out the storm.

September 02, 2006|Brian Vander Brug and Sam Enriquez | Times Staff Writers

CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico — A weakened Hurricane John glanced off the beaches of this coastal resort on the tip of Baja California late Friday, just hours before coming ashore near Cabo del Este.

Authorities had scrambled to evacuate thousands of residents to shelters away from flood-prone shantytowns.

John, which had been downgraded a day earlier to a Category 2 storm by the National Hurricane Center in Miami, carried sustained winds of 110 mph with stronger gusts. It was expected to drop 6 to 10 inches of rain, the U.S. National Weather Service said.

More than 8,000 tourists, most from the United States, hunkered down in luxury hotels after authorities declared a "red alert" early in the day, closing highways, seaports and the airport during what was supposed to be the start of a busy holiday weekend.

Resort managers set up dorms in conference rooms, bringing mattresses and enough food to last through the storm, which was expected to bring rain and high winds overnight.

About 800 visitors were turned away at the airport as they tried to get seats on the last flights out of town, authorities said.

Early Friday, business owners and homeowners hammered plywood over windows and filled sandbags to protect against floodwaters.

Military personnel here, as well as in nearby San Jose del Cabo and La Paz, moved hundreds of families from shacks in gullies and on hillsides to spend the night at local schools and other shelters.

"We did what we needed to do, and we've taken the precautions we could," said Victor Manuel Guluarte Castro, secretary of state for Baja California Sur.

There were no immediate reports of damage as the hurricane's eye made landfall. The U.S. National Weather Service predicted that John would weaken as it passed over the Baja peninsula, becoming a tropical storm in the Pacific. It was not expected to hit the United States, but the Southwest could get heavy rain.

As John headed up the coast this week, it never hit shore. But heavy rains from its outer edges caused flooding in Acapulco and made some roads impassable in the mountainous interior.

In the hours before the storm in Cabo San Lucas, the weather was warm and overcast, with a slight breeze. A few of the remaining tourists walked along the mostly deserted central business district, sipping cans of Modelo beer. Nearly all the stores downtown closed early, and about half had plywood covering their windows.

"People in high-risk areas have been moved to shelters," said Jose Gajon de la Toba, director of civil protection for Baja California.

A half a dozen tourists and two locals found their own shelter Friday afternoon at the Giggling Marlin, one of the few establishments still open. The bar was prohibited by emergency decree from serving alcohol, but there was plenty of food.

"We haven't closed in 22 years," the bar manager said. "We liked to ride them out before, but this time we may have to close."

By nightfall, even the Giggling Marlin was shuttered, as was every business downtown.

Brian.Vanderbrug@ latimes.com

Sam.Enriquez@latimes.com

Vander Brug reported from Cabo San Lucas and Enriquez from Mexico City. Carlos Martinez in The Times' Mexico City Bureau and special correspondent Daniel Roldan Gomez in Cabo San Lucas contributed to this report.

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