Hurricane Jimena, a dangerous Category 4 storm, sent tourists fleeing from resorts on Mexico's Baja California peninsula on Tuesday, though most residents stayed behind. The storm is set to make landfall overnight further up the peninsula.
AFP - Hurricane Jimena sent tourists fleeing Tuesday as it bore down on Mexico's Baja California, while fishing communities on the sparsely populated peninsula toughed it out.
The peninsula, which spears down from California into northwestern Mexico, lay directly in the path of 2009's mightiest hurricane, but few residents evacuated even as tourists scattered from resorts on its southern tip.
"This phenomenon is unprecedented. In the history of the peninsula, we have not had a storm of the force of Jimena," Jose Gajon, director of the Baja California Sur civil protection service, said in a local radio interview.
"It has been raining since yesterday, many places are totally inundated and cut off and that's even before the storm has really made its presence felt."
Jimena had weakened slightly but was still a Category Four hurricane with winds topping 145 miles (230 kilometers) per hour, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its latest bulletin at 1500 GMT.
"A hurricane warning is now in effect for the southern portion of the Baja California peninsula," said the advisory, posted on its website.
As the storm approached, local officials prepared evacuation plans for more than 20,000 families considered most at risk.
"We are still not prepared. They just told us today to start bringing people to shelters," said a worker at a sardine packing plant in the village of Puerto San Carlos, home to some 4,000 people.
With gusty winds and rains already hitting La Paz, the capital of the peninsula's southern Baja California Sur state, residents hastily boarded up windows and stocked up on groceries before the shops closed.
Tourists were not planning on hanging around so long and the resort town of Los Cabos on the southern tip of the Baja peninsula was the big early loser.
The threat of "severe damage" from the storm had the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development move a major international conference on tax transparency from Los Cabos to Mexico City.
The local hotel association estimated that some 7,000 tourists would be evacuated before the storm was expected to make landfall on the resort-filled peninsula.
"I'm leaving Los Cabos, advancing my departure, because I know a lot about hurricanes. I'm a Florida native and I know its effects," one fleeing American, Jesse Short, told AFP at the airport.
Adriana Patterson said she was leaving a day early because of Jimena. "I am returning to San Diego, my husband is staying here, but I am returning for my safety and (that of) my daughter."
Los Cabos International Airport manager Martin Pablo Zazueta told AFP the airport would close well before the hurricane hit.
"Various airlines, in particular foreign ones, are applying the rescue plan to take any tourist who wants to go out of Los Cabos in the face of the threat posed by Jimena.
"So far about 1,000 tourists, mostly Americans, have decided to return to their country," he said.
While the rains and strong winds were already buffeting southern areas of Baja California around Los Cabos, the storm was not expected to make landfall until Wednesday at the earliest.
"If it was to follow this track it would hit land at sometime Wednesday evening or early Thursday morning," a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center told AFP.
"This is certainly not the strongest hurricane there has been in this part of the world. We had one 12 years ago, Hurricane Linda, that was much stronger than Jimena," he added.
The US State Department has urged caution in traveling to areas of Mexico and the parts of the United States lying in the storm's path.
"US citizens located in areas likely to be impacted by Hurricane Jimena and who do not have access to adequate and safe shelter should consider departing while commercial flights are still available," it said in an alert.
Not all were prepared to leave.
A defiant Gregory Smith, from New York, quipped: "Many Americans are leaving, but I'm going to stay here."
The center of the hurricane was 140 miles (225 miles) south-southwest of Cabo San Lucas as of 1500 GMT Tuesday.
It was moving north-northwestward at about 12 miles per hour and will skirt the southern portion of Baja California later Tuesday and the center of the peninsula by Thursday, the NHC said.
Date created : 2009-09-01