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Hurricane Jimena swirls past Baja resorts; Erika forms in Atlantic

Posted September 2, 2009

— Hurricane Jimena pounded the middle of Mexico's Baja California Peninsula on Wednesday after lashing the Los Cabos resort region with driving rains and thundering surf.

Early Wednesday, winds from the once-mighty storm had slowed to around 105 mph, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm would weaken further as it runs up the peninsula. Hurricane-force winds were already hitting land.

Meanwhile, in the Atlantic ocean, Tropical Storm Erika had top winds around 40 mph and was about 100 miles east-southeast of the northern Leeward Islands. The storm was expected to drop 2 to 6 inches of rain on those islands late Wednesday and overnight.

Tropical storm warnings have been issued for a number of Caribbean islands: Anguilla, Antigua, Barbuda, Gaudeloupe, Montserrat, Nevis, Saba, St. Barthelemy, St. Eustatius, St. Kittis, St. Maarten and St. Martin. The hurricane center said the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico should keep an eye on the storm.

"We're not looking, of course, at it having any impact on the coast of the United States until maybe next week, if it all," WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner said.

It appears that although Jimena was a Category 3 hurricane when its fringes brushed southern Baja peninsula, the biggest resort, Los Cabos, escaped major damage, beyond power outages, mud-choked roads and downed signs.

Dozens of people evacuated from the Los Cangrejos shantytown huddled in a darkened school after electricity failed during the storm. Trying to calm squalling babies and ignore hunger from food shortages, the evacuees waited for dawn, and a chance to look at what the hurricane did to their homes of plastic sheeting, wood and tar paper.

"Instead of giving out a few sheets of roofing every year, they should give us materials to build real houses - wood, or even bricks," said Paulino Hernandez, an out-of-work mason who sought haven at the school. "Every year it's the same thing: They (officials) give out a few sheets of roofing, and the next year it has to be replaced" when a hurricane comes.

Authorities reported no injuries in Los Cabos but expressed concern about what might happen when the hurricane hits land farther up the coast.

"It could be ugly at Bahia Magdalena," state Interior Secretary Luis Armanado Diaz said, referring to a sparsely populated bay with a smattering of fishing villages to the north.

But Diaz said Jimena could alleviate the state's drought. "If it continues like this, and there is not a major impact, it will help more than it will hurt," he said.

Officials in Baja California Sur state prepared shelters to hold up to 29,000 people as Jimena churned northward.

The federal government declared a state of emergency for Los Cabos and the state capital of La Paz as the storm approached.

Schools, many ports and most businesses closed. Rescue workers from the Red Cross and the Mexican military prepared for post-hurricane disaster relief, and two Mexican army Hercules cargo planes flew in medical supplies.

While its center missed the peninsula's resort-studded southern tip, its outer fringes kicked up huge waves and flooded streets.

Los Cabos resident Eduardo Meraz, 25, went swimming in the pounding surf at the height of the storm Tuesday.

"I'm not afraid. I respect the sea," said Meraz, still dripping from his dip. "The water is nice, but the waves really toss you around."

Not everyone enjoyed Jimena's raging show.

Martin Melchior, a 25-year-old construction worker, stood outside his plywood, tin-roofed shack in the Cactus shantytown and nervously watched the storm. Thin, tattered power cables snaked over the sodden ground to the hundreds of unregistered hookups to the city's power system.

Police trucks moved through the muddy streets, urging people to join an estimated 2,000 residents already in shelters, but Melchior said he wouldn't go.

"There are too many people in the shelters, and you can't get any peace. Someone tells you: 'This is my space,'" he said.

Forecasters predicted the hurricane would drop 5 to 10 inches of rain in Baja, and dry stream beds already were gushing torrents.

Most tourists had left by Tuesday, leaving 75 percent of hotel rooms vacant. Some of those who stayed came out to marvel at the storm, fighting the winds and rain at the shore.

Others wandered deserted streets, some ankle-deep in water.

"We're going to go get some more liquor and go back to the room and just watch it," Mark Lopez, 29, a truck dispatcher from San Jose, Calif., said while walking near a marina with a half-dozen friends. "We're making the most of it."

Early Wednesday, Jimena was about 30 miles south of Cabo San Lazaro.

 

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Associated Press writers Martha Mendoza and Julie Watson in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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