Archive for Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Frustrated tourists battle to leave Cancun

October 26, 2005

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— Tens of thousands of haggard tourists, fed up after five days in hot and dirty emergency shelters, battled Tuesday for airline and bus seats out of Mexico's hurricane-battered Caribbean resorts.

Officials said they still had no solid estimate of the damage caused by Hurricane Wilma, which lashed the coastline Friday and Saturday and wiped out the heart of Mexico's $11 billion foreign tourism industry, even washing away Cancun's famed white beaches.

President Vicente Fox's office said that about 22,000 foreign tourists remained in the area, down from a peak of almost 40,000.

Thousands of tourists rushed to Cancun's international airport after officials said Tuesday that 27 flights would be leaving.

Mark Davis of Shelby Township, Mich., said he'd paid $50 for a taxi to the airport - at least $10 more than the standard fare. "That was the hurricane discount," he joked while stuck in line along the road.

"How much worse can it get?" he said. "I'd rather sleep here, outside, than in a shelter. It's cleaner."

But troops turned back a mile-long line of taxis, vans and buses before they could reach the badly damaged airport.

Only later did Mexico's Tourism Department circulate a bulletin saying the first flights were reserved for organized tour groups - forcing individuals to wait even longer.

"Because this is a process of evacuation of tourists, there are no ticket sales," it said.

The terminal was damaged, so buses carried people directly to planes on the tarmac.

Some tourists gave up on leaving through Cancun and found rides on seven- to 14-hour bus trips to Merida, 170 miles to the west. Frontier Airlines said it had sent a plane Tuesday to Merida to try to help some of its 1,200 stranded passengers.

About 1,000 found refuge at the Royal Islander on the hotel strip. It had no power or water, but the hotel managed to provide food twice a day, cooked on gas stoves on what was left of the beach.

Ferries were carrying supplies and people between the mainland and the hurricane-raked resort islands of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres, Fox's office said Tuesday. The U.S. Embassy said 900 Americans were believed to be on Cozumel.

With some U.S. tourists complaining about their own government's response, the State Department issued a statement outlining its efforts to help. It said it had urged Americans to leave Oct. 20, adding that by Tuesday, it had 23 officials in Cancun and one in Cozumel.

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