Hurricane Dean Slams Mexico Coast

Hurricane Dean plowed into the Caribbean coast of Mexico as a roaring Category 5 storm, heading for the ancient ruins and modern oil installations of the Yucatan Peninsula. The eye of the storm made landfall near Majahual, a popular port with cruise liners east of Chetumal and Belize.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

And I'm John Ydstie.

Hurricane Dean slammed into Mexico's southern Yucatan Peninsula this morning. The monstrous storm was packing sustained winds of 165 miles-per-hour. It came ashore near Mexico's southern border with Belize. The storm has killed at least a dozen people in its track across the Caribbean. Thousands of tourists have fled Mexico's Mayan Riviera.

However, sticking it out is NPR's Sue Goodwin. She joins us now from Playa del Carmen.

Sue, Playa del Carmen is about 100 miles north of the eye of the storm. What's it like there where you are?

SUE GOODWIN: Well, it's loud and it's dark. The government cut off the electricity here in Playa about two hours ago. It actually happens automatically when the winds hit a certain point. And I spoke with another radio journalist here in Playa and he told me we are in a tropical storm situation here in Playa with gusts that go up to a hurricane level.

YDSTIE: Are you getting rain right there now?

GOODWIN: Yeah, a lot of rain.

YDSTIE: What do you know about the situation farther south, the area that's taking a direct hit?

GOODWIN: Well, again, I've talked to journalist who told me the governor of Quintana Roo issued a statement just about a half and hour ago saying that the eye had hit north of a town called Chetumal. The town it actually hit is called Pedro Antonio de los Santos. According to this journalist, everyone has been evacuated from the region. That was the first priority of the government. This is a low-lying area where it hit, some swampy areas so there's a risk of flooding.

What was interesting to me was a government statement that came out last night where they were asking people to help evacuate some of the residents in the area who refused to leave. This is in the heart of Maya land, and there are many Mayan people who live in very simple structures that would be destroyed by strong winds. And they were reluctant to leave because they may lose everything they own.

So the government was reaching out and finding Mayan speakers who could go and convince these people to leave. And it's my understanding that they were successful to get people out and into evacuation.

YDSTIE: Quickly, Sue, because we don't have much time. Even though the northern part of the peninsula where you're at isn't being hardest hit, it does have the potential to take a big economic blow.

GOODWIN: Yeah, I mean, people here in this town which relies so heavily on tourism still talk about Wilma. They feel like they just got back on their feet. I talked to one gentleman who said after Wilma, everything turned gray. They lost all the vegetation and they feel like it's just was coming back. People were just having the confidence again to visit this region, and they're very nervous this week. They're losing a good strong week of tourism because most of the tourists have left.

YDSTIE: Thank you, Sue.

GOODWIN: Thank you John.

YDSTIE: NPR's Sue Goodwin in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

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