Correction to This Article
In some Aug. 22 editions, an A-section article about Hurricane Dean incorrectly said that the storm was the first Category 5 hurricane in 25 years to make landfall in the Atlantic basin. The last Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in the basin was Andrew, which hit Florida 15 years ago.

After Dean, Yucatan Counts Its Blessings

By Adriana Varillas and Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 22, 2007

FELIPE CARRILLO PUERTO, Mexico, Aug. 21 -- In the grim darkness, as 160 mph winds lashed this small city, she lay in pain.

The electricity had long since gone out. Doors were stitched tight. The streets were bare.

But Angelica Tun Puc was awake in a powerless hospital here in the Yucatan Peninsula, fighting through the labor pains that began the night before. The night before Hurricane Dean.

Sometime before 9 a.m. Tuesday, while rain pelted windows secured only by crosses made of tape, Tun Puc gave birth to a tiny, wriggling baby girl, according to her doctor, Basilio Eliseo Ku Euan. Tun Puc showed off her hurricane-day newborn for a small group of reporters and some of the police officers who rushed her to the hospital after finding her close to giving birth in a remote village.

Exhausted, she could utter only one sentence for her guests as she held her daughter tightly to her chest: "I haven't even thought what I'm going to name her."

Translated literally, the Spanish phrase for giving birth means "to give to the light." And not long after Tun Puc became a mother, the sun appeared for the first time, revealing a city that was far less damaged than expected.

The birth was a small blessing on a day of huge blessings here. The storm that the Mexican news media dubbed "El Gigante" -- the giant -- somehow found the one route through the Yucatan Peninsula that would cause the least damage, slipping well south of Cancun's glitzy hotels and thick residential neighborhoods. Trees fell, glass cracked, but there was none of the widespread, catastrophic wreckage that a storm this huge -- the first Category 5 hurricane in 25 years to make landfall in the Atlantic basin -- was capable of sowing.

Though Dean killed 12 people during three days in the Caribbean, by late Tuesday -- despite earnest searches by police and soldiers -- not a single death had been recorded in Mexico.

Dean, weakened over land, is now forecast to regain strength as it passes over the Gulf of Campeche and onto Mexico's mainland Wednesday. The storm is expected to deliver winds in excess of 100 mph somewhere between two of the country's most important port cities: Tampico and Veracruz. It is also expected to pass through Mexico's richest offshore oil fields and could veer close to the aging Laguna Verde nuclear plant. Hundreds of buses have been placed on alert in the event of radiation leaks.

"Here in Veracruz, we're blessed by God," Jorge Ortiz, a retired airline worker, said Tuesday while municipal crews filled sandbags a few steps away. "They always say the storms are going to get us, but we are always safe."

Ortiz was buoyed by reports from the Yucatan, as were his friends and neighbors, who seemed to be doing little to prepare for the oncoming storm. Restaurant workers crowded around television sets watching swirling graphics and cheering.

"It's down to a Category 1!" Gabriel Canales yelled across the floor of his bayside seafood restaurant, El Varadero.


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company