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Hurricane Jimena flails at Baja's tip

The storm, packing winds of 120 mph, passes offshore from a popular tourist zone as it heads north. No injuries are reported, and thousands have taken shelter.

September 02, 2009|Ken Ellingwood

MEXICO CITY — Tourists took cover and thousands of residents moved to makeshift shelters Tuesday as Hurricane Jimena swiped at Baja California with strong winds, heavy surf and rain showers.

There were no immediate reports of injuries in and around Los Cabos, the popular tourist resort area on the tip of the peninsula that for several days had braced for the hurricane's arrival.

Jimena, which weakened Tuesday to a Category 3 hurricane with winds of 120 mph, was expected to remain at least 50 miles offshore as it swirled past the Los Cabos area on its way north. But the storm's winds had reached 155 mph Monday and still carried destructive force well away from its core.

Mexican authorities issued a hurricane alert and set up shelters for residents of impoverished, flood-prone neighborhoods. By Tuesday night, the storm was passing the peninsula's southern tip. It was expected to drop 5 to 10 inches of rain over southern Baja California.

The hurricane was projected to come ashore in the early afternoon today in a sparsely inhabited region about 200 miles north of Los Cabos. The Miami-based National Hurricane Center predicted that the storm would cross the peninsula and the Gulf of California and reach the northwestern state of Sonora.

Authorities in the state of Baja California Sur said 5,000 people had gone to official shelters.

In Cabo San Lucas, the region's principal tourist center, few people were on the streets, and schools and stores were closed. More than 1,000 people took cover in 20 makeshift shelters established by authorities. Officials designated eight hotels as havens for tourists. Authorities barred boating and closed the airport at San Jose del Cabo.

"We're ready for its arrival," Francisco Cota, civil protection director for the municipality that includes Cabo San Lucas, said by telephone. Cota said winds were strong but the rain had diminished.

Many tourists cut short vacations and hopped early flights home, some as late as Tuesday morning. Others were holed up in hotels behind boarded-up windows. The scenic Los Cabos area is popular among golfers, sport fishermen and boaters.

But as the hurricane drew nearer, there were no signs of damage.

"I can only say we're having tropical winds, not hurricane winds," said Lionel Alvarez, manager of Las Ventanas al Paraiso resort, which sits between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.

For some longtime residents of southern Baja, word of the oncoming hurricane evoked memories of previous big storms and spurred them to act. Boat owners had moved their craft to safety by Monday.

"I've never seen all of the resorts take a storm so seriously," said Mark Rayor, who owns a sport-fishing boat and scuba shop on the eastern side of the peninsula. "After Hurricane John hit us three years ago, everyone is much more nervous and on high alert."

The storm's approach led organizers of an international tax meeting to move the session to Mexico City on Monday.

Jimena is Mexico's strongest hurricane so far this year.

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ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

Deborah Bonello and Cecilia Sanchez of The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.

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