Thousands of tourists left stranded by Hurricane Wilma continued their slow exodus home Friday, a week after the storm ripped through the Yucatan Peninsula, killing seven people and badly damaging hotels along Cancun's famous 14-mile beach.
U.S. Embassy officials said the last American vacationers probably will have departed by Sunday, the bulk of the estimated 20,000 tourists who endured 40 hours of hurricane winds, 24 hours of widespread looting and a week cooped up by the hundreds in makeshift shelters without electricity or running water.
Many tourists left their luxury hotels for shelters on Oct. 20, a day before Hurricane Wilma struck. They stayed in gymnasiums, schools and movie theaters, relying on government deliveries of food and water, as well as their own resourcefulness.
With no electricity, automated teller machines and many stores were closed. With no running water, bathroom facilities were primitive. During a few desperate hours last weekend, tourists joined in looting markets and convenience stores. After order was restored, they wandered the streets of downtown Cancun, a lost colony clad in shorts, tank tops and flip-flops.
Basic services returned Friday in many parts of the city, officials said, as the last of the tourists were leaving.
"We are estimating that we have about 6,000 left, and about 4,000 will get out today," U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Judith Bryan said Friday. "By Sunday, we'll have everyone out who wants to get out."
During a two-day visit that ended Friday, Mexican President Vicente Fox pledged that 80 percent of Cancun's 25,000 hotel rooms would reopen by Dec. 15, in time for the resort's high season. The Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton hotels, however, all said Friday they had no firm reopening dates.
Total damage from Hurricane Wilma is expected to equal or surpass that from Hurricane Gilbert, the 1988 storm that cost insurers $1.2 billion, according to Rolando Vega Saenz, president of the Mexican association of insurance companies.
Meanwhile, another tropical storm off the eastern coast of Nicaragua triggered government hurricane warnings Friday. Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Florida said Tropical Storm Beta could grow to hurricane strength Saturday.