Tropical Storm Odile heads toward Arizona, as Mexico airlifts stranded tourists from Baja

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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)

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MEXICO CITY — Mexico's government airlifted thousands of stranded foreign tourists out of the hurricane-ravaged resort of Los Cabos, as a weakened Odile headed over the Gulf of California Wednesday on a path toward the U.S. state of Arizona.

The remnants of Odile, which has been downgraded from a Category 3 hurricane to a tropical storm, were expected to reach Arizona Wednesday evening and strike hardest in the Tucson area, though forecasters said Phoenix could get lashed with rain and heavy winds as well.

In Mexico, 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 Odile tore through the area late Sunday and Monday.

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.

Fatai Oshi-Ojuri, a tourist from Oakland, California, who came to Mexico with his girlfriend to celebrate his 30th birthday, was among the first to get out on a Federal Police jet.

He said the airport in Los Cabos was a mess with roof panels and electrical wiring down, and signs and windows shattered.

"That was like a scene from 'The Walking Dead,'" he said by phone from Mazatlan, where he was waiting for an Alaska Airlines flight to Los Angeles.

Officials estimated it would take two days to ferry out the 30,000 tourists who were being put up in temporary refuges or hotel areas converted to shelters. Some 26,000 of those were foreigners, primarily from the United States, Canada and Great Britain.

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.

Emergency officials in Baja California reported that 135 people were treated for minor injuries. But surprisingly for a hurricane of this intensity there were no reports so far of fatalities directly related to Odile.

By early Wednesday, Odile had left Baja California and was crossing the Gulf of California toward mainland Mexico. It was expected to reach Arizona as a tropical depression. Forecasters said it was still capable of unleashing dangerous floods and mudslides.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said that by Wednesday morning, Odile had maximum sustained winds near 50 mph (85 kph). It was centered about 85 miles (135 kilometers) south of Puerto Penasco, and was moving to the north-northeast near 6 mph (9 kph).

Farther south in the Pacific, Tropical Storm Polo was centered 200 miles (325 kilometers) south of Zihuatanejo with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph), and was moving northwest at 12 mph (19 kph). The hurricane center predicted that Polo could become a hurricane by Wednesday night or early Thursday.

Meanwhile in the central Atlantic, Hurricane Edouard was a Category 1 storm with maximum sustained winds near 90 mph (150 kph). The Hurricane Center said swells from Edouard would begin affecting parts of the U.S. East Coast north of Florida, likely causing life-threatening rip current conditions.

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