Correction to This Article
This A-section article about Hurricane Dean incorrectly described Belize City as the capital of Belize. The capital is Belmopan.

Yucatan Villagers Implored to Flee Homes

By Adriana Varillas and Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 21, 2007

FELIPE CARRILLO PUERTO, Mexico, Aug. 21 -- Hurricane Dean roared early Tuesday into Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, where some campesinos refused to leave their thatch-roofed shacks in rural villages and brandished machetes at evacuation crews.

After battering the Cayman Islands with heavy rain and wind, Dean, which reached Category 5 strength Monday evening, lashed the Yucatan with 160 mph winds and even stronger gusts before dawn Tuesday. Torrential rains and storm surges up to 18 feet are forecast.

"It's as bad as it gets," meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said in a telephone interview from the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The storm, which is blamed for eight deaths over the weekend on Caribbean islands, appeared to be veering away from the luxury resorts of Cancun and toward lightly populated areas at the southern end of the peninsula seldom visited by tourists. The region is known for its natural splendor, highlighted by the Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve, and is rich with natural buffers, such as swamps, that can help deaden the impact of hurricanes.

In Felipe Carrillo Puerto, a city 130 miles south of Cancun that Mexican authorities believe could be a bull's-eye for the storm, classrooms were transformed into shelters and buses were dispatched to collect evacuees from 106 nearby Mayan villages.

"Unfortunately, because of certain Mayan customs, some people don't want to leave their home villages," Eliseo Bahena, mayor of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, said in an interview. "According to their Mayan customs, they feel like their houses can withstand the storm."

Hurricane Wilma pounded the area in 2005, but the worst of its winds spared Felipe Carrillo Puerto and smacked Cancun, where more than $2.5 billion in losses were recorded.

"We've never seen anything like this," Zully Baena, children's services director in Felipe Carrillo Puerto, said.

Dean's tightly formed eye spanned 20 miles as it approached the Yucatan. But its thrashing winds stretched more than 200 miles from its center, and forecasters predicted it could send rain and heavy gusts as far as eastern Texas.

Belize, the small country that occupies a slice of the Yucatan Peninsula, also was bracing for a hit by Dean. Hospitals were evacuated in the capital, Belize City, and Mayor Zenaida Moya urged residents to leave, saying the city's shelters are not strong enough to withstand hurricane winds.

Dean, which raced toward the Yucatan at 21 mph Monday, will weaken as it crosses the peninsula. But the storm is expected to slip back into warm water off Campeche and may build more strength for a second assault on Mexico, near Tampico -- possibly as a Category 3 hurricane with 111 mph winds.


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company