Bracing for Hurricane Dean As the storm makes its way toward Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, residents are bracing for what meteorologists are saying could become a Category 5 hurricane — packing winds of up to 150 miles per hour. NPR's Sue Goodwin gives an update from Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Bracing for Hurricane Dean

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NEAL CONAN, host:

Right now, Hurricane Dean is just off the coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. It hit Jamaica overnight and dumped heavy rains on the Cayman Islands. The National Hurricane Center says Dean could become a Category 5 storm before it lands on the Yucatan, with winds up to 150 miles an hour.

NPR's Sue Goodwin is on the Yucatan Peninsula for what started out as a vacation. She's also this program's executive producer and was due back in the office today.

Right now, she joins us by phone from Playa del Carmen. Hey, Sue's on vacation.

SUE GOODWIN: Hi, Neal.

CONAN: Where is Playa del Carmen?

GOODWIN: Playa del Carmen is about 40 miles south of Cancun and right now, about 100 miles north of where they think the hurricane eye is actually going to hit.

CONAN: Were people leaving there or some people tried to stick it out?

GOODWIN: It's pretty well cleaned out. I'm on 5th Avenue right now, which is usually just thousands of tourists everywhere you turn. And I can sort of see maybe 20 one-way and 50 the other. And I'm walking - I'll hold my phone up, and this is what it sounds like if this gentleman will - well now, he stopped hammering.

But all up and down 5th Avenue, people are hammering plywood over all of the stores, there's sort of plywood everywhere you can see. And it's pretty well cleared up. They've moved all the tourists, including myself, into what are called the evacuation hotels. In my case, that means there's a banquet room where we will all - wait, here's the hammering. Nope, he stopped.

CONAN: He stopped again.

GOODWIN: So there's a banquet room where we all will go if the government says we have to. And it basically looks like a wedding hall. It's done in a Mayan ruin motif, and there are no chairs and no cots. I hear that they have a generator because they'll probably cut the power in a few hours.

CONAN: What does the sky look like?

GOODWIN: You know, it's slightly overcast. I'm looking at the Caribbean right now, and I can - it's the beautiful Caribbean blue with the seven shades of blue that they talk about, a light breeze. I think in a couple of hours, it will be different. But right now, without the aid of technology, you wouldn't know that anything was going to happen.

CONAN: And I know you're there in part because you want to cover this, but in part also because the airports are closed.

GOODWIN: Well, they haven't closed Cancun Airport yet. There's rumors that it's going to close tonight so we were supposed to leave tonight and we decided rather than go and possibly spend the night in the Cancun Airport, which a lot - hundreds of people did last night trying to get out, we would be better off sticking it out.

CONAN: Well, that part of Mexico is very popular with American tourists even at this time of the year. Any sense of how full the resorts were?

GOODWIN: Pretty full. This was the last week of the summer, basically. Starting next week, it's the low season. So I'm going to take a wild guess and say they were, you know, 80, 90 percent full. So they're definitely taking a hard economic hit with this because people certainly aren't going to come back towards the end of the week.

CONAN: And so they're going to lose a whole bunch of, well, I guess, a whole period of people who would be there in the hotels, filling those rooms or renting villas?

GOODWIN: Yeah. And it trickles down. I was walking through a neighborhood, pretty, like a mile away from the ocean today and ran into a gentleman who sells gold-plated jewelry to his neighbors, basically, and all of his neighbors work in the hotels. So if they're not working in the hotels making their money, he's not selling his products. So, you know, it'll be bad. But, you know, people here are used to it, too. They have a very, you know, tough attitude about this stuff, you know? They like to talk about how many hurricanes they've lived through and at the same respect, all the precautions are being taken. The government is evacuating people further south, into evacuation centers. They're sending out doctors. I ran into a team of doctors packing up medical supplies. In every evacuation center, they'll have a doctor spending the night. So they're very ready. It's impressive the preparation that they do here.

CONAN: Sue Goodwin is with us on the line from Playa del Carmen in Mexico, where she's - you'd think she might be nervous awaiting a hurricane's arrival there in the next few hours. Of course, we know that Sue would probably be even nervous getting on the airplane to go home, but...

GOODWIN: Exactly.

CONAN: I also have to ask. Your husband and your son are with you. They don't get the fun of covering this hurricane.

GOODWIN: No, but you know, they get the fun of trying to change - the adventure of working through Orbitz to change the travel reservation. And my son is actually kind of excited. He's never been through a big storm. And let's see. I sent them out yesterday to go buy supplies, wait in line two hours at Wal-Mart. They had to get the flashlights and the ponchos, which unfortunately comes from the staff gift fund. So no tequila for you, but I'll - be have flashlight when I get back.

You know, they're - they get this - they're enjoying the spirit of adventure. And it's fascinating to watch how a town gets ready for this.

CONAN: NPR's Sue Goodwin. Sue, be careful, will you?

GOODWIN: Okay. And I'll see you Friday, I hope.

CONAN: All right. Sue Goodwin joined us from Playa del Carmen in Mexico. Hurricane Dean is expected to make landfall in the Yucatan Peninsula sometime in the next 24 hours.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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