CANCUN, Mexico – The last of Mexico’s hurricane-struck tourists were emptying out of the Caribbean coast on Friday – some finally catching a few moments at the beach – even as area hotels prepared for planeloads of new guests.
Bulldozers gathered up tons of storm debris in Cancun, while some hotel owners south of the famous resort said they would start flying in new visitors to coastal resorts today.
Only about 5,000 tourists, many of them Americans, were waiting to leave Cancun, according to the U.S. Embassy. Most were waiting at hotels or shelters for a flight out.
That was down from a peak of nearly 40,000 tourists trapped inside shelters when Wilma smashed into the resort region on Friday with 145 mph winds.
For five days, buses and airplanes have been working to move out thousands each day.
More than two days of furious winds caused what Mexico’s insurance industry said was the costliest disaster in Mexican history. By Friday, many in the region were desperate for running water.
President Vicente Fox was met with shouts of protest on Friday as he visited the small island of Holbox, where many said they have received no food or water.
“Zero bureaucracy,” Fox replied, promising a “quick solution.”
He found a warmer reception in Cozumel, the first island slammed by Wilma. People applauded as Fox visited the city’s debris-strewn waterfront lined with the shattered restaurants.
With the storm now long-gone, a few tourists finally did what they’d come for: hit the beach.
“I decided I had gotten too stressed, and that I was in paradise, so we said, ‘We should just enjoy this,’ and we went to the beach,” said Doug Pousma, a doctor from Highlands Ranch, Colo.
Fox has promised to re-inaugurate Cancun on Dec. 15, when he said 80 percent of the hotel rooms should be ready again.
Jesus Almaguer, president of the Cancun Hotel and Motel Association, said that the country was losing $7 million a day with Cancun shut down.
Owners of hotels south of Cancun in the Mayan Riviera, which suffered less damage, said they had 10,000 hotel rooms ready for visitors right now. Alex Sosaya of Apple Vacation said his company planned to bring 11 flights of tourists today, and he said the first post-hurricane planeloads of U.S. visitors would arrive on Tuesday.
Despite the expected arrival of more tourists, not everyone was optimistic.
Alejandra Camarena, a 20-year-old waitress, said she was moving from Playa del Carmen back to Guadalajara in central Mexico.
“The beach is still there, but there’s no place to stay,” she said. “Cancun and the region are on their feet, but it takes more time to be a tourist destination.”