John weakens as it nears Baja California - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

John weakens as it nears Baja California

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Posted: Friday, September 1, 2006 6:29 am | Updated: 3:20 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico - Hurricane John bore down on the resorts of Los Cabos on Friday as droves of tourists sought the last flights out, others took shelter in hotel ballrooms, and shantytown residents were ordered to evacuate.

Weakened slightly to a Category 2 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph, John was advancing on the southern tip of Baja California at 8 mph, and the National Hurricane Center in Miami predicted the storm's center would pass "near or over Baja California" later in the day.

Winds were down slightly from 115 mph earlier in the day, but forecasters said it remained dangerous and could strengthen again.

"We are at God's mercy," said Francisco Casas Perez, a 46-year-old bricklayer from the shantytown of Tierra y Libertad, who spent the night at a shelter with his 14-year-old son.

"We've been asking God to not let it hit too hard," he said. "The hurricane is no game, especially where we are surrounded by water on all sides."

Police on Thursday night drove through the shantytown of La Palma, where tarp and tarpaper shacks line a dry riverbed, to warn people to move to safer locations.

"This is the last warning; the next time we'll come and force you to leave," a voice blared over loudspeakers. The area is home to thousands of construction workers and hotel employees who work in Cabo San Lucas' luxurious tourist zone.

Ana Maria de Martinez, 60, one of about 10,000 residents ordered to evacuate, said she obeyed the order "for safety's sake."

"Things can be replaced, but not lives," she said as she nervously gathered up her few belongings - the tarps that make up the walls of her shack and a plastic laundry basket of clothes - as police escorted her to a waiting truck.

At an improvised shelter at a school, distraught mothers stared at the bare concrete floors as their children scampered around them, most unaware of the menace approaching from the sea.

Between 7,000 and 8,000 tourists who remained in Cabo San Lucas were relocated to hotel ballrooms and rooms away from the beach to wait out the powerful storm.

"There's no other place to go," said Bill Crowley, a 42-year-old U.S. tourist. "I would evacuate the first floor of these hotels, but we're on the third floor, so we should be all right."

Paul Mares, another American, stocked up with a 12-pack of beer the evening before the hurricane was to strike, noting "it's good to be prepared."

The Hotel Tesoro asked guests to move into an improvised shelter in its convention center, which has fewer windows than the rooms. In a letter, the administration asked those who chose to stay in their rooms to hunker down in the bathrooms.

For residents, shelters were set up in 131 schools. State Gov. Narciso Agundez said residents who refuse to head for higher ground would be forcibly removed from their homes.

Shop owners and hotels boarded up windows and hotel workers stripped rooms of light fixtures and furniture, in case the glass shattered. Long lines snaked from gas stations, and grocery store shelves were picked clean of many items.

Officials closed the airport Thursday night, ending a mad scramble for last-minute flights. There's only one narrow road out of the resort - it's 400 miles long and leads all the way to Tijuana on the U.S. border.

Late Thursday night, Mexico issued a tropical storm warning for central Baja, while the peninsula's southern tip, home to Cabo San Lucas and fellow resort San Jose del Cabo, remained under a hurricane warning.

A hurricane watch was extended along the west coast of the peninsula from Bahia Magdalena to Punta Abreojos, and a tropical storm watch remained in effect along the east coast from the Loreto northward to Mulege - a region dotted with vacation and retirement homes owned by Americans.

On the mainland, officials discontinued a hurricane warning for a swath of coastline including the bay that is home to the resort of Puerto Vallarta.

However the hurricane center warned that heavy rains along the west coast of the mainland and the Baja peninsula "could cause life-threatening flash floods and mud slides over areas of mountainous terrain."

John wasn't likely to affect the United States; cooler Pacific waters tend to diminish storms before they reach California.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Kristy was downgraded from a hurricane Friday as it churned farther out in the Pacific Ocean, with maximum sustained winds of 69 mph. Forecasters said it was possible that John could eventually absorb Kristy.

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