Mexico begins airlifting tourists from hurricane-stricken Baja; Odile still a tropical storm


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Hurricane Odile blazed a trail of destruction through Mexico's Baja California Peninsula that leveled everything from ramshackle homes to big box stores and luxury hotels, leaving roads and entire neighborhoods as disaster zones Monday. (Sept. 15)

The powerful Hurricane Odile made landfall on the southern end of Mexico's Baja California peninsula near Cabo San Lucas Sunday night. Earlier video showed trees swaying in the storm's powerful winds. (Sept. 15)

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CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico — The Mexican government began airlifting the first of thousands of stranded tourists out of the hurricane-ravaged resort area of Los Cabos on Tuesday, as residents picked up the pieces of shattered, flooded homes.

The Interior Ministry said military and commercial planes were carrying travelers out through the Los Cabos international airport, which remained closed to commercial flights due to damage suffered when Hurricane Odile tore through the area late Sunday and Monday.

Images on Mexican television showed the terminal full of debris, but Ministry official Jose Maria Tapia told Milenio Television earlier that the runway was usable and work was nearly complete to make the control tower operable.

Travelers were being flown free of charge to airports in Tijuana, Mazatlan, Guadalajara and Mexico City to catch connecting flights and, in the case of foreigners, receive consular assistance.

Thousands in the state of Baja California Sur remained without electricity, water or phone service. A boat was on its way with humanitarian aid, and authorities were working to restore utilities.

President Enrique Pena Nieto was scheduled to tour the area later, after presiding over an independence day military parade in the capital.

Downgraded to a tropical storm, Odile continued to soak parts of the Baja California Peninsula, and forecasters said it was still capable of unleashing dangerous flash floods and mudslides.

In Los Cabos, Enrique Cota wept as he stood in murky, ankle-deep water and surveyed the destruction at his home. On the kitchen wall, a muddy mark nearly waist-high showed how deep the floodwaters got.

"We'll have to start over, little by little," Cota said, "because the stove, the refrigerator, the television, the kid's computer — it's all ruined."

He rode out Odile's landfall in a shelter with firefighters, and said he hadn't slept for two days.

Homes, stores and resorts along Los Cabos' famed hotel row all suffered severe damage, with room windows shattered, facades crumbled and lobbies full of debris.

Authorities said about 30,000 tourists, 26,000 of them foreigners, were being put up in temporary refuges or hotel areas converted to shelters.

Luis Felipe Puente, national coordinator for Civil Protection, said the airlift would prioritize the elderly and people with health problems.

For some, it was a dream vacation turned nightmare.

Charly Park, 52, flew in from Los Angeles with his wife on Sunday, but they never even got to check into their room. Instead, they were put directly into the hotel shelter where they spent a hot, cramped night as the hurricane raged outside.

"It's a horrible experience, no air conditioning, no fans ... the power lines all fell down," Park said.

He was considering renting a car to drive to Tijuana, a little over 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) to the north, and cross the border back into California.

Emergency officials in Baja California reported that 135 people were treated for minor injuries from flying glass or falling objects.

But surprisingly for a hurricane of this intensity — it made landfall as a monster Category 3 storm — there were no reports so far of fatalities directly related to Odile.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said that by Tuesday afternoon Tropical Storm Odile had maximum sustained winds near 50 mph (85 kph). It was centered about 15 miles (25 kilometers) southeast of Bahia de Los Angeles, Mexico, and was moving to the north-northwest near 9 mph (15 kph).

Farther south in the Pacific, Tropical Storm Polo formed off southern Mexico early Tuesday. It was centered 275 miles (440 kilometers) south of Acapulco with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph), and was moving northwest parallel to the coast at 12 mph (19 kph). The hurricane center predicted that Polo could become a hurricane later in the week.

Meanwhile in the central Atlantic, Hurricane Edouard strengthened to a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds near 115 mph (185 kph). It was forecast to pose no threat to land.

Associated Press writers Maria Verza and Peter Orsi contributed from Mexico City.

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