By Anthony Esposito
CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) – Hurricane Delta rapidly lost strength before landfall near top Caribbean getaway Cancun on Wednesday, potentially saving the area’s hotels, condos and Mayan indigenous villages from an onslaught threatened when it was a menacing Category 4 storm.
Delta had weakened to Category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity, with winds of 110 miles per hour (175 km per hour), by the time it hit the coast close to Puerto Morelos, a fishing village popular with tourists.
Cancun scrambled to shutter shops and evacuate tourists from beach hotels on Tuesday as Delta rapidly gathered strength over the warm Caribbean and looked to be one of the strongest hurricanes to threaten Cancun in years.
Even as a weaker storm, Delta’s arrival is a blow to Mexican efforts to revive tourism in the surrounding beach-lined state of Quintana Roo, where the industry has been battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I want to go home, this is crazy,” said Dee Harris, a 29-year-old from Michigan who came to Cancun with his partner and had been due to leave before the storm led to the cancellation of their flight. “The vacation was good before this.”
Delta is also disrupting the oil industry, with companies shutting down offshore production platforms and withdrawing workers.
Peak sustained winds of 84 mph (135 km/h) were recorded at a weather station in Cancun, which is about 24 miles (38.5 km) from snorkeling spot Puerto Morelos close to the eye of the storm.
Delta was expected to pass through Quintana Roo in 10-14 hours, state governor Carlos Joaquin said.
“Hopefully, that speed means it won’t do us so much damage,” Joaquin told Mexican radio.
Slow-moving hurricanes often do more destruction than those with faster lateral movement because they have more time to unleash their force on structures.
Delta is expected to lose some wind power over the peninsula before gathering strength again in the Gulf of Mexico.
On Tuesday, residents queued at supermarkets to stock up on provisions in anticipation of disruptions, while the state government readied shelters that need extra space due to coronavirus social-distancing requirements.
Officials ordered the evacuation of Cancun’s hotel zone and other coastal areas, while shop workers boarded up windows.
A hurricane watch was in place from the beach town of Tulum westwards, including Cozumel.
Water levels could rise by up to 9 feet (3 m) over normal tide conditions due to Delta, the NHC said.
The Yucatan peninsula had already taken a hit at the weekend from Hurricane Gamma, a smaller storm that damaged property and forced restaurants and other attractions to close.
(Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Nick Zieminski)