Looks like a long road to recovery for Cancun: "Full recovery could take until Easter week, according to Ana Patricia Morales, vice president of the Cancun Hotels Association."
Economy stung by effects of Hurricane Wilma
Martes 25 de octubre de 2005
Nuestro mundo, página 1
CANCUN.- The economy took a big blow from Hurricane Wilma, with the palatial hotels at the heart of its tourism industry left in ruins and shopping centers emptied by looters.
Soldiers and federal police took to Cancun's streets Monday to prevent further theft and officials decreed an evening curfew.
President Vicente Fox announced plans to start evacuating 30,000 frazzled tourists, most from the United States, as he worked to restore the image of a carefree Caribbean beach paradise.
Some began expressing frustration that the U.S. government had been unable so far to help them.
Fox told AP Television News in Cancun that officials hoped to start busing tourists some 280 kilometers (170 miles) across the Yucatan Peninsula to the airport in Merida on Monday.
The booming string of Caribbean hotels anchored by Cancun produce almost half of Mexico's US11 billion in yearly foreign tourism revenue and they have a significant element in Mexico's balance of trade.
"It is going to take us a couple of months to have 80, 90 percent of the tourism capacity of Cancun working," President Vicente Fox said televised interview with the Televisa network as he stood before cars sloshing through still-flooded streets lined with downed power lines.
"We're approaching the full tourist season. So speed is fundamental," he added.
Full recovery could take until Easter week, according to Ana Patricia Morales, vice president of the Cancun Hotels Association.
She told the Associated Press that all of the group's 110 hotels had suffered some damage ranging from broken windows to structural problems.
Fox said only six people were known dead, adding to 13 who died earlier as Wilma hit Jamaica and Haiti. But in Belize, on the Caribbean south of Mexico, police said they were searching for a dive boat that disappeared over the weekend with several people aboard.
For two days, Hurricane Wilma turned Cancun's string of luxury hotels into an expensive breakwater, leaving their lobbies heaped with shattered metal, marble and glass, their gardens a swath of muck.
The entire beach had vanished in front of some hotels, leaving their foundations exposed.
As the rains stopped Sunday, looters stole the city's pride. Stunned Mexicans watched television images of thieves rushing through stores like a swarm of ants, then loading television sets, clothes and beer into trucks, cars and even stolen pizza delivery motorcycles. Police said about 200 people had been arrested.
While blocks of stores were looted. By Monday, many stores were bare.
"The hurricane was ugly," said Arturo Campos, whose shoe store was emptied.
"The people were worse."
Quintana Roo state civil defense director Jose Medina said a nighttime curfew had been imposed, restricting movement in Cancun.
Authorities pledged to reopen the Cancun airport for evacuation flights on Tuesday. "In the meantime we will get as many as we can to Merida," said Fox.
Most tourists were still in the dark, literally and figuratively, still sleeping in cockroach-infested classrooms reeking of sweat and mildew.
While a generator growled at an elementary school housing more than 1,000 evacuees, no lights were working. Hand-scrawled paper signs urged civility.
"Respect each other," said one.
Shouting erupted when soldiers demanded tourists stop trying to recharge cellular phones with the generator. Outside, tourists lined up 15-deep at any working pay phone as telephone service was slowly restored.
By afternoon, a few tour company representatives arrived to a bus trip to Merida for a flight out of Mexico, but only for their clients. Others were still frustrated.
Keith Lennon, 49, of Merriville, Indiana, said he had told one agent, "'I'll give you a thousand dollars to bring a bus here for us,' but he wouldn't do it. That's how desperate we are."
Some expressed irritation that the U.S. government had not been able to do more.
"I feel the Mexican government is helping here to an extent, doing the best they can," said KeVen Riley, town finance administrator for Paw Paw, Michigan. "But the U.S. has done nothing. Where is our government? They are only preparing for Florida; they forgot about us."
A few people burst into tears when U.S. consular officer Lisa Vickers arrived later and said the government had no plans yet to organize an evacuation, saying that was largely up to tour operators. She urged people to stay with their tour groups.
The U.S. embassy in Mexico City announced it had set up a task force to aid victims.
Many of Cancun's own 500,000 residents had lost nearly everything in flooded or destroyed homes.
Fox told hotel owners in Cancun on Monday that he had urged insurers to speed payment to storm-damaged customers and promised renewed promotion of Cancun.
He also warned businesses against gouging on prices or firing workers.
"Nobody will be unemployed. Everybody is going to work for the region to get ahead. The government and hotels are going to respect that commitment," Fox told rescue workers.
In an interview with the Televisa television network, he estimated that there should be 30 billion pesos (US2.7 billion, euro2.3 billion) in aid from various levels of government, insurance and loans to help with reconstruction.
But he said it would still take another week to restore "a good part" of the city's largely destroyed power service. He said officials were trying to bring in portable generators while gradually rebuilding the larger power grid.