Jimena makes landfall on Baja California peninsula

September 2, 2009 2:03:59 PM PDT
Hurricane Jimena has made landfall on Mexico's Baja California peninsula with winds of about 85 mph (140 kph). The storm has been tearing off roofs, knocking down power poles and bringing welcome rainfall to the drought-stricken state Wednesday.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says the center of the storm made landfall between Puerto San Andresito and San Jaunico during the past few hours.

Winds have fallen from Tuesday's roaring 150 mph (240 kph) Category 4 blasts. The Hurricane Center says the storm is expected to weaken more as it runs up the Baja peninsula, which is home to about 3.5 million people. That includes more than 150,000 U.S. citizens.

Earlier Wednesday

Los Cabos resorts mopped up after an overnight lashing from the once-mighty Hurricane Jimena, which weakened Wednesday as it doused the southern end of Mexico's sparsely populated Baja California Peninsula.

Winds had fallen from Tuesday's roaring 150 mph (240 kph) blasts to 100 mph (160 kph) by Wednesday morning and the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said it was expected to weaken further as it runs up the Baja peninsula, home to about 3.5 million people, including more than 150,000 U.S. citizens, according to the State Department.

Despite a pummeling by the fringes of the then-Category 3 hurricane, the Mexican peninsula's biggest resort, the picturesque beach towns of Los Cabos, appeared to escape major damage beyond power outages, mud-choked roads and downed signs.

"A transformer blew out near our hotel ... like a bomb went off," said Robert Hudak, a sports fisherman from Rochester, New York, as he walked through the storm-soaked marina at Cabo San Lucas. "Three of them went off in our neighborhood; the whole neighborhood is out." His hotel handled the emergency the old-fashioned way: "They gave us a candle," Hudak said.

Like other tourists here, Hudak planned to make the best of it.

"We're down here to fish, hopefully we can," Hudak said. He noted that storms sometimes stir up the sea bottom and provide good fishing. The resort's marlin, sailfish and dorado are prized by fishermen.

Further up Baja's west coast, Juan Arce Marron said he was prepared for the hurricane to roll into his small campground in the Bahia Asuncion fishing village later in the day.

"We're starting to feel the wind this morning," he said, "but we're prepared for a bigger hit this afternoon."

Marron said windows were nailed shut, doors were locked and boats already up on land. More importantly, he said his family had stocked days of food and water, because dirt roads in the region, which is in the heart of the massive Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, tend to wash out in large storms.

Authorities reported no injuries in Los Cabos, but several thousand people spent the night in shelters.

Dozens of evacuees from the Los Cangrejos shantytown huddled in a darkened school after electricity failed during the storm Tuesday night. 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.

Baja California Sur state Interior Secretary Luis Armanado Diaz said he was still worried about the storm's strike along the coast further north, but he 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.

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 (12 to 25 centimeters) of rain onto Baja arid deserts, 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, California, said while walking near a marina with a half-dozen friends. "We're making the most of it."

National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said Jimena is not going to bring much-needed rain to Southern California's wildfires, and will instead be heading back over the Pacific Ocean.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Erika was moving across the Atlantic, about 100 miles (165 kilometers) east-southeast of the northern Leeward Islands. The storm's top winds were decreasing to around 40 mph (65 kph), but tropical-storm force winds extended as far 105 miles (165 kilometers) from the center.

It was moving westward at about 10 mph (17 kph) and could hit the Leeward Islands in a day or so.

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