This morning, Hurricane Dean slammed into Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula with sustained winds of 165 mph and gusts of 200 mph. The eye of the storm is just north of the Mexico-Belize border, passing south of the resort areas of Cancun, Cozumel, and the Riviera Maya. These resort areas were spared the brunt of the storm but may see beach erosion and other damage from powerful waves.
The Category 5 storm, the first hurricane for the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, wreaked havoc on Jamaica, sweeping close to its southern shore on Sunday evening. The Cayman Islands, however, only saw 50 mph winds, as the stormed passed to the south before heading toward the Yucatan.
Last week the storm pounded Dominica, St. Lucia, Martinique, and other Eastern Caribbean islands as a Category 4 event. Damage in St. Lucia was relatively minimal, according to the St. Lucia Tourist Board, and included uprooted trees, downed power lines, and hotel pools full of sand and branches. The roof of the children’s ward at the Victoria Hospital was blown off, but no one was hurt as all children had been evacuated to another part of the hospital. Currently, no hotels have reported major damage, and airports remain closed. In addition, two landslides have suspended access between the north and south of the island.
Jamaica’s damage, however, is more severe, with roads blocked by fallen trees, flooding in the eastern part of the island, and power outages. In preparation for the storm, Jamaica’s airports were shut and people flocked to more than 1,000 shelters around the island. With power still out around parts of the island (electricity was shut down as a safety measure) official damage reports are not yet available.
However, areas such as Montego Bay on the north side of the island missed the worst of the storm. According to Richard Whitfield, managing director of the Half Moon Montego Bay, the resort did not incur any structural damage, and no one was hurt. The property is operational, and guests began moving back into their rooms Monday afternoon. While Jamaica reported two deaths as of Monday, police could not confirm they were related to the hurricane, according to The Jamaica Gleaner. Dean’s destruction comes just three years after Hurricane Ivan struck the region, killing 19 people, according to The Gleaner.
In preparation for the storm, Mexico began evacuating tens of thousands of tourists from Cancun and other areas along the Mayan Riviera over the weekend. Sharon Marsh, CMP, CMM, vendor relationship manager, global meeting solutions, for Cisco, was in Cancun for a conference and says the scene at the airport Sunday was pretty chaotic. “The lines at Delta and American were overwhelming.”
Marsh says that although the hotel she was staying at left letters in guests’ rooms suggesting they arrange to leave the area Sunday, “the hotel staff did not really communicate the risk well.” In fact, she says, some attendees at the conference chose to stay in Cancun through Monday rather than evacuate.
“On Saturday, it was announced that the airport would close on Monday at noon. This got more people alarmed,” says Marsh. However, many were unable change their flights on short notice, despite Delta and American adding additional flights out on Sunday.
The Cancun area is still recovering from the $3 billion damage it incurred in 2005 when Hurricane Wilma pummeled the area.