Two men move some of their belongings in a boat in the middle of a street flooded by the passage of Storm Gamma and waiting for the passage of Hurricane Delta in Villahermosa, Tabasco state. (Jaime Avalos)
Cancun, Mexico – Hurricane Delta weakened slightly to a Category 3 cyclone on Wednesday although it remained dangerous with winds of 115 miles per hour (miles per hour). It was expected to make landfall in the morning south of the resort of Cancun and then head to the coast of the United States this week.
The greatest immediate impact was expected in the extreme northeast of the Yucatan Peninsula, a resort area in the Mexican Caribbean full of spas, where the meteor is expected to make landfall in the early hours of Wednesday.
This entire area, from Tulum to Cancun, is made up of towns totally dependent on tourism, which were just beginning to come out of the closure imposed by the pandemic and will receive the hurricane with many areas already flooded and affected by tropical storm Gamma.
In Cancun, long lines stretched out Tuesday at supermarkets, warehouses and gas stations as residents scrambled to search for supplies under mostly sunny skies. The authorities warned the population to have enough food and water on hand for several days. Boat owners lined up on public ramps to get their boats out of the water.
Meanwhile, the evacuations of tourists and residents of coastal areas along the Riviera Maya and from islands like Holbox to safe spaces began.
In Cancun alone, 160 shelters were set up. One of them is the city's convention center, for residents of the hotel zone whose residences are not safe. The place can host up to 1,500 people.
“We have carried out all the protocols” but “it is a strong, powerful hurricane,” said Quintana Roo Governor Carlos Joaquín. The official said that the region had not received a hurricane of such magnitude since the Wilma pass in 2005, that it made landfall as a Category 4 storm and remained 70 hours above the state. On this occasion, he trusted that Delta will not last more than 14 hours over the territory.
Hotels with structures firm enough to withstand the impact of hurricanes began to move their guests to the safest areas and put all their emergency protocols in place.
Lizeth Elena Garza, 35, ran out of her room at the Fiesta Americana Condesa Hotel, with her 10-month-old daughter in her arms, as soon as the alarm sounded. She had arrived in Cancun on Sunday with her husband, her other 4-year-old daughter and her in-laws from Reynosa, in the northern state of Tamaulipas, and she couldn't hide her fear.
“We do not know how it can impact here because we have never been in a situation like this,” he said.
Joseph Potts, an assistant to the Denver, Colorado, police department, was with his 3-year-old at the kiddie pool while his wife attended a meeting where they gave guests emergency information about the hurricane, but the whole family ended up being evacuated to a university shortly after, when Delta gained strength.
“The hurricane practically came up overnight and we just want this to end so we can get back to the beach,” Potts said.
The official definition of a rapid escalation is 35 mph in a 24-hour span. Delta's wind speeds have increased by 80 mph, when at 2 p.m. ET Monday, it was registering 60-mile winds and hitting 140 miles in 24 hours later, before losing something. of force as it approached Yucatan.
Cancun Mayor Mara Lezama Espinosa said the city had opened more shelters than usual to give people more space due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before Delta's arrival, there were 40,900 tourists throughout the state, according to data from the Quintana Roo Secretary of Tourism, Marisol Vanegas, a lower number than usual for this season due to the coronavirus, which economically devastated the area due to closures forced.
In the Moon Palace complex, south of Cancun, hundreds of guests from hotels of the same chain in Cozumel, Isla Mujeres or tourists who were in the areas closest to the beach, were transferred to the convention center of the complex, an area “ super-safe ”where they would be provided with everything they need, said Cessie Cerrato, vice president of Public Relations at Moon Palace. Due to the pandemic, the center demanded the use of face masks and that the safety distance between families be respected.
The Quintana Roo authorities asked to clear the streets from 7 at night. The forecast indicated that Delta touches the northern tip of Cozumel and enters the peninsula between Playa del Carmen and Puerto Morelos and that the hours of greatest impact are from midnight on Tuesday until 3 in the morning.
“I've never been to a hurricane zone,” said Zena Koudsi, who traveled from North Carolina to Playa del Carmen. “I had never been to Mexico. I was expecting maybe a little more sun, less waves, but we are trying to make the best of this. “
Meanwhile, by order of the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, some 5,000 members of the armed forces and emergency personnel were deployed to collaborate in the tasks that were necessary.
As night fell, the Cancun airport was still operating and had lines of passengers waiting to board. According to the governor, only 35 flights had been canceled and it would continue to operate until the winds allowed.
The beaches, however, remained closed on Tuesday although, in some points, visitors took their last walks in the morning before sheltering from an impact that is expected to be brutal, with a rise in sea level of up to 4 meters, dangerous swell and flooding in the blink of an eye.
“Honestly, I don't see much stopping (the cyclone) until it reaches Yucatán, due to the weak vertical winds, high humidity and very warm and deep waters of the northwestern Caribbean,” said Eric Blake, an expert at the National Center. Hurricane Report (NHC).
Delta's eye was 35 miles east-northeast of Cozumel early Wednesday morning, moving northwest at 17 mph.
Cuba and the Cayman Islands were, however, on alert. In Cuba, the western provinces and especially the Isle of Youth, began to prepare and protect more than 30,000 tons of tobacco, as well as boats and food, among other things.
Data from a US Air Force Reserve hurricane chaser indicated that Delta will continue to strengthen as its forward speed increases, the NHC said.
Once it leaves Mexico, Delta is presumed to resume its Category 4 status over the Gulf of Mexico as it approaches the United States coast, where it could make landfall around Friday with heavy rains in the southeast of the country.
“Although there is great uncertainty in the trajectory and intensity forecasts, there is a significant risk of dangerous storm surges, wind, and precipitation along the coast, from Louisiana to west Florida, beginning the night of Thursday and all Friday. Residents of these areas should make sure they have a contingency plan in place and stay informed of updates to Delta's forecasts, ”reported the Hurricane Center.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed emergency declarations Tuesday that would make it possible to quickly apply for federal assistance if needed.
Alabama's coastal communities are still cleaning up the damage from Hurricane Sally, which made landfall in Gulf Shores on Sept. 16, warning people to be ready for Delta's arrival.
Meanwhile, in Cancun, concern was growing despite the measures put in place by the hotels. “I feel safe because the hotel has given me until now, and I know that we will be well protected, but you never have one hundred percent” of certainty, explained Stephanie Vázquez, 30, who was spending a few days with her son and her husband at the Fiesta Americana. “It's nature and you don't know what might happen.”