TULUM, Mexico (AP) – Hurricane Grace hit the Caribbean coast of Mexico with heavy rain and strong winds overnight, threatening to keep tourists away from white sand beaches until it crosses the Yucatan Peninsula.
The Category 1 storm had already soaked the earthquake-damaged Haiti, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, en route to a direct impact on the Riviera Maya, the heart of Mexico’s tourism industry.
The state of Quintana Roo opened shelters and evacuated some hotels and residents before the arrival of the storm. The popular cruise destination Cozumel and modern Tulum were in the path of the storm.
Downtown Playa del Carmen, usually packed with music and club goers, was eerily desolate Wednesday night. The authorities had ordered the closure of all businesses and people inside at 8 pm.
One exception was Axel Felix, a 37-year-old pizza delivery man who made his last delivery of the night in the rain. “Now I’m going home and I don’t go out until tomorrow,” Felix said. “You have to be careful and stay home.”
Another was Juan González, a 25-year-old student who was walking his dog. “At home we will be calm with the food, waiting to see what happens and with the windows protected,” he said.
With little standing in the way on the peninsula, Grace was expected to weaken slightly and then regain strength from the hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall for the second time in Mexico later this week.
Quintana Roo Governor Carlos Joaquín said Thursday that authorities had evacuated hotels that were not built to withstand hurricanes and ordered a halt to alcohol sales in the region at 5 p.m. Some airlines canceled flights to the peninsula.
As of Wednesday night, Grace had maximum sustained winds of 130 kph (80 mph) and was moving west at 30 kph (18 mph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. The center of the storm was located about 125 miles (205 kilometers) east-southeast of Tulum.
On Tulum’s main street, tourists in plastic ponchos splashed in puddles as the wind picked up. On the beach side, the surf rose and bathers took refuge from the blowing sand.
Armed soldiers and sailors patrolled the streets of Tulum in trucks.
Businesses began to cover and cover windows and lines formed at grocery stores as families stocked up on basic items.
“We are taking precautions, buying milk, sugar, water and cookies because we do not know how long we will be locked up,” said Adamaris Garcia, a 21-year-old homemaker, standing in a line of dozens of people in a small store.
Meanwhile, some tourists were worried about a lost day at the beach, while others were preparing for their first experience with a hurricane.
Johanna Geys, from Munich, Germany, was having a beer in Tulum on Wednesday afternoon. It was his first time in Mexico and Grace would be his first hurricane.
“We don’t know what it’s like (in hurricanes),” said Geys, a 28-year-old waitress. People have told him that it won’t be bad.
Leaving a store with some supplies, 25-year-old California law student Sarah Lynch said she wasn’t overly concerned.
“We have extra water. We prepare for the hurricane and we’re just going to go through the storm and see what happens, ”Lynch said. “It’s a bit scary because it is unknown, but besides that we are fine. We did it through COVID. “
Off the coast of Cancun, fishermen dragged their boats away from the water’s edge in preparation.
“Last year we were caught like this (off guard) because the information we receive is sometimes not correct and other times we can withstand it (the storms),” said fisherman Carlos Canché González. “But I don’t think it will get stronger, and from the experience we had last year, well, whether it does or not, we have to protect our team. We live on that, we have been fishermen for years. “
“For a tourist, this hurricane is really bad because we all have activities scheduled for certain days and if you cancel it impacts our vacations,” said Keny Sifuentes, a 19-year-old Colombian, in Cancun with his family.
State authorities said that, as of last week, the region was home to about 130,000 tourists and hotels were more than half full despite the pandemic.
AP journalist Dan Christian Rojas in Cancun contributed to this report.