Mexico's Gulf Coast Surveys Wilma Damage

Thousands of people are now stranded and short of food and drinking water after Hurricane Wilma made its way over the Yucatan Peninsula. The storm dropped more than 60 inches of rain, blown by winds exceeding 145 mph.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Hurricane Wilma's departure from Mexico let people get a good look at the damage there. The storm lingered over the Yucatan Peninsula for about 30 hours and dropped more than 60 inches of rain, blown by winds exceeding 145 miles per hour. The storm smashed into resort cities where thousands of people are now stranded and short of food and water. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN reporting:

The resort town of Cancun was one of the hardest hit by Wilma. Yesterday residents and tourists ventured out of sweltering shelters in search of food and water. Thousands lined up at the town hall as Army soldiers handed out bags of crackers and cans of tuna. Others, however, helped themselves to food and merchandise and damaged store fronts. Police fired warning shots into the air in attempts to ward off looters. City officials estimated that 90 percent of hotels in the resort city suffered damage. The mayor said it could take up to six months for Mexico's biggest tourist spot to recover. Officials are still struggling to assess the damage. President Vicente Fox toured the coastal region yesterday, assuring residents that food, water and construction materials are available.

President VICENTE FOX (Mexico): (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: Fox said the problem is getting it to the affected areas, but he said the military will use all of its resources, including amphibious vehicles and helicopters, to deliver the aid. Getting to Cozumel is especially difficult, where supplies for the thousands of residents and tourists trapped on the island are running low. Ferry docks were obliterated by Wilma's winds. Two huge boats used to ferry passengers between Cancun and Cozumel were thrown out of the water and onto large sandbars.

(Soundbite of hammering)

KAHN: Off the coast, residents began assessing their own damages and making meager repairs. Forty miles from Cancun in the Mayan village of Xcan, Jorge Nokam(ph) and his two sons replaced cardboard roof panels and soaked palm fronds off the top of their one-room hut.

Mr. JORGE NOKAM (Hurricane Survivor): (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: He says as the rushing water quickly filled their house, they ran to a neighbor's sturdier home, taking shelter there. Nokam says everyone rode out Wilma at the neighbor's, even their four turkeys, five chickens, three ducks and seven ducklings.

Mr. NOKAM: (Through Translator) Well, we felt sorry for them. We had to take them all in with us. It was like one big Noah's Ark over there.

(Soundbite of person walking through water)

Mr. JOSE MAS KANYIEL(ph) (Hurricane Survivor): Hi.

KAHN: In a nearby village, Jose Mas Kanyiel says he'll have to wait for the water to recede before making repairs to his thatched hut.

Mr. MAS KANYIEL: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: The water is knee-deep, and he says he lost nearly all of the family's belongings. He says worse, he won't be able to find work for at least several weeks. In the meanwhile, Mas says he'll take advantage of the strong winds to keep up a Mayan tradition for this time of the year: kite flying.

Mr. MAS KANYIEL: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: Mas says the kites are made of all shapes and sizes, out of plastic bags and lightweight sticks. Looking up to the still cloudy skies, he unwinds a bit of black thread wrapped around a twig, calls his three-year-old son over, and the two run down the side of the road. The much calmer remnants of Wilma's once disastrous winds easily lift the tiny yellow kite high into the sky. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Valladolid, Yucatan.

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