Giant Hurricane Dean swipes at Mexico, no dead

CHETUMAL, Mexico Tue Aug 21, 2007 7:49pm EDT

1 of 23. Residents walks on a flooded street after Hurricane Dean hit Chetumal in the state of Quintana Roo, August 21, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Henry Romero

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CHETUMAL, Mexico (Reuters) - Hurricane Dean flooded streets and toppled trees across Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula on Tuesday but it left famous Caribbean beach resorts mostly intact before taking aim at Gulf of Mexico oil platforms.

There were no early reports of deaths or serious damage in Mexico from the storm, a potentially disastrous Category 5 hurricane which lashed beach resorts on the "Mayan Riviera" where thousands of tourists had crammed into shelters.

"We escaped. It was very light," said Miguel Cruz, 29, a hotel receptionist in the resort of Playa del Carmen.

Water surged down a main street at thigh level in Chetumal, a city of about 150,000 people near where Dean made landfall. Broken trees and street lights lay strewn around.

Dean had killed 11 people elsewhere on its rampage through the Caribbean.

It passed quickly over the Yucatan and was downgraded to a Category 1 storm but forecasters warned that roaring winds and rains would likely pick up again as Dean headed toward Mexico's offshore oil platforms in the southern Gulf of Mexico.

State oil company Pemex has closed and evacuated more than 400 oil and gas wells, meaning lost production of 2.65 million barrels of crude per day.

President Felipe Calderon said no deaths were reported. Mexico's response to hurricanes has improved in recent years as emergency services regularly stage rehearsals and the population is well informed about disaster prevention.

Hotels and other buildings in resorts like Playa del Carmen and Cancun, devastated by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, escaped major damage this time.

Tens of thousands of tourists fled Cancun over the weekend before Dean crashed into the area, famous for its white beaches, crystal clear waters and Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza.

But storm surge and high waves may have swept away parts of Cancun's beach, residents and a local official said. The beach was rebuilt with new sand brought in from further out in the Caribbean after Wilma pummeled it.

POWER OUT

Chetumal was left without power when the hurricane's sustained winds of 165 miles per hour (265 kph) and gusts of up to 200 mph (320 kph) knocked over dozens of power poles and trees in the early hours of Tuesday. The aluminum roofs of some houses were blown off.

Dean swiped Jamaica at the weekend with fierce winds and pelting rain, killing two people and taking the storm death toll to eleven. Haiti was worst hit with four people dead.

Dean is likely to cost insurers up to $1.5 billion with the majority of claims coming from damage caused in Jamaica, disaster-modeling firm Risk Management Solution said.

Heavy rain drenched Belize, a former British colony that is home to some 250,000 people and a famous barrier reef. Sugar canes fields were flattened in the north of the country but there were no deaths reported.

"Frankly, it was less severe than we expected. We're very happy that the damage has been contained. We know how to organize for hurricanes and there are more houses now built to withstand these forceful winds," said Robert Leslie, the government's cabinet secretary.

Category 5 hurricanes are rare but there were four in 2005, including Katrina, which devastated New Orleans.

Hurricane Wilma two years ago washed away whole beaches in Mexico, killing seven people and causing $2.6 billion in damages.

Poor local residents with badly built homes are often the worst hit by hurricanes.

Calderon cut short a visit to Canada, where he met U.S. President George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to oversee the emergency effort.

(Additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg in Belize and Ed Stoddard in Cozumel)

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