Category 4 Wilma Slams Mexico's Yucatan Resorts Hurricane Wilma lashed Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula this morning with sustained winds up to 145 miles per hour. The damaging Category 4 storm is threatening the beach resort communities of Cozumel and Cancun, and appears to be headed towards Cuba and Florida.

Category 4 Wilma Slams Mexico's Yucatan Resorts

Category 4 Wilma Slams Mexico's Yucatan Resorts

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Hurricane Wilma lashed Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula this morning with sustained winds up to 145 miles per hour. The damaging Category 4 storm is threatening the beach resort communities of Cozumel and Cancun, and appears to be headed towards Cuba and Florida.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, a FEMA insider's account of desperate pleas ignored. Hurricane Katrina makes more waves on Capitol Hill.

First, the lead: Hurricane Wilma, a Category 4 hurricane on the coast of Mexico now. The eye has hit the resort island of Cozumel. The power's out in Cancun, cut by the local government as a safety precaution. In Miami, National Hurricane Center director Max Mayfield says Wilma could stay over the Yucatan Peninsula throughout the weekend before moving on.

Mr. MAX MAYFIELD (National Hurricane Center Director): If it stays on the Yucatan for any significant length of time and much of the circulation is over land, this hurricane will--well, that would obviously be terrible news for Mexico, but for the United States' interest, it means that we'll have a weaker hurricane coming out into the Gulf of Mexico and it will be slower in getting here.

CHADWICK: Max Mayfield, speaking at the National Hurricane Center. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in Merida--that's the regional capital of the Yucatan Province--and she joins us now.

Are people in the Yucatan ready for this storm, Lourdes?

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:

Well, ready or not, the storm is here. It, you know, landed in Cozumel, which is a island very near Cancun and Playa del Carmen, also big resort towns where lots of tourists come. And winds, we are hearing, are extremely fierce. Television images are showing bent trees, flashing rain and huge swells of seawater. Already the evacuations have come and gone. People who tried to get out yesterday from Cancun's airport--those that could, left. Others have been extremely frustrated. Here in Merida, we've seen groups of tourists coming around knocking on every single hotel door looking for spare rooms. They left the hurricane zone.

CHADWICK: So the forecasters have kept changing their predictions about when and where this storm would hit. It is in Cozumel. How has this had an effect on the preparations there--I mean, all the uncertainty about this storm?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, there has been a lot of uncertainty. At fir--you know, first they thought it was going to miss the Yucatan Peninsula. Then it seemed it was going to be a direct hit that was going to hit overnight. Then it just kind of slowed to a halt. One of the big concerns about this storm is that it's huge, from the center to the outermost wind gusts are about 200 miles, and it's extremely slow moving. It's been inching its way towards the Yucatan Peninsula. And the fear is that it's a Category 4 storm, lots of wind gusts and lots of rain, and that could cause a lot of damage and a lot of flooding to low-lying areas.

CHADWICK: Has the government said how many people it thinks fled and how many people remain in the area, number one. And number two, are people there thinking about Hurricane Katrina and what happened in our country very recently?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is being taken extremely seriously. President Vicente Fox came on the air and gave an address to the people saying that it was extremely important to take this storm seriously and to try and avoid loss of life. Certainly among the American tourists and other tourists who are here, there is a great deal of concern over the strength of the storm, and they've all seen those images from Katrina. What we're seeing at the moment is there are at least 1,000 tourists in Cozumel--which is an island--still there, along with local residents who remained. And in the city of Cancun, there are tens of thousands of people who either couldn't get out or decided to stay behind.

CHADWICK: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Merida, Mexico.

Lourdes, thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

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