Flooding And Looting In Mexico

A main avenue in the resort city of Cancun, Mexico can be seen completely flooded after the passing of Hurricane Wilma on Saturday Oct. 22, 2005. AP

Hurricane Wilma punished Mexico's Caribbean coastline for a second day Saturday, ripping away storefronts, peeling back roofs and forcing tourists and residents trapped in hotels and shelters to scramble to higher floors. At least three people were killed.

Waves slammed into seaside pools and sent water surging over the narrow strip of sand housing the city's luxury hotels and raucous bars, joining the sea with the resort's alligator-infested lagoon. Downtown, winds tore banks open to the elements, leaving automatic teller machines rising from knee-deep water.

Wilma, which had weakened to a Category 2 and was inching northward, was expected to pick up speed Sunday, sideswiping Cuba before it slams into Florida.

CBS News hurricane expert Bryan Norcross says that a dip in the jet stream will push Wilma towards Florida, and the storm will .

As the eye of the storm passed over Cancun on Saturday, the air became calm and eerily electric. Some residents ventured briefly from their hiding spots to survey the flooded, debris-filled streets.

Devastating winds and rains trapped tourists inside Cancun's school shelters, where CBS News producer Ben Ferguson reports the conditions are hellish.

"People were sleeping in desks, on top of desks and on the floor in the water. Several of our windows blew out. It was basically just 17 hours of in the dark — just completely soaking wet," reports Ferguson.

Several dozen people looted at least four convenience stores, carrying out bags of canned tuna, pasta and soda, while others dragged tables, chairs and lamps from a destroyed furniture store. Police were guarding only larger stores, including a downtown Wal-Mart and an appliance store.

A brief outing during the eye's calm revealed a downtown Cancun littered with glass, tree trunks and cars up to their roofs in water. The only cleanup crew visible consisted of two workers using saws to break up a tangle of tree branches. The front half of a Burger King had collapsed, and at least one gas station had its roof blown away.

State and federal officials said they had little information on damage because Wilma's winds, at 110 mph, made reconnaissance almost impossible.

Yucatan Gov. Patricio Patron told Formato 21 radio that one person was killed by a falling tree, but he offered no details. And in Playa del Carmen, two people died from injuries they sustained Friday when a gas tank exploded during the storm, Quintana Roo state officials said.

The storm earlier killed 13 people in Jamaica and Haiti.

Quintana Roo State Civil Protection Director Maj. Jose Nemecio said a few emergency crews were able to begin distributing emergency supplies in Playa del Carmen on Saturday. But there were few reports on the overall extent of the damage.

On the island of Cozumel, which has been isolated since weathering the brunt of the storm on Friday, fruit and vegetable salesman Jorge Ham, 26, told The Associated Press by phone that winds had dropped significantly. He saw no catastrophic damage during a brief tour of downtown Saturday.

"There are broken windows, downed trees, fallen power lines, but nothing else," he said. "People have taken shelter."

In Playa del Carmen, to the south of Cancun, screaming winds flattened wood-and-tarpaper houses and sent water tanks and plywood sheets flying.

In Cancun, the storm's angry winds ripped roofing off luxury hotels and knocked out windows, filling rooms and shelters with water and forcing some evacuees to seek higher ground. Others slept with plastic sheeting as bedding.
  • Gina Pace

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