CANCUN, Mexico – Hurricane Delta made landfall in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on Wednesday as an extremely dangerous Category 2 storm, roaring ashore between Cancun and the resorts of Playa del Carmen and Cozumel.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said satellite imagery, radar data from Cuba and surface observations in Mexico indicate that the center of Delta struck land near Puerto Morelos around 5:30 a.m. local time, sustaining top winds of 110 mph (175 kmh).
Quintana Roo Gov. Carlos Joaquín warned residents and tourists that “it is a strong, powerful hurricane.” He considered it a good sign that Delta had weakened a bit late Tuesday, but said the area hadn’t seen a storm like it since Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
Delta had increased in strength by 80 mph in just 24 hours, and its top winds peaked at 145 mph (230 kph) before it weakened as it neared the shore. Forecasters warned it was still an extremely dangerous storm nevertheless, with a life-threatening storm surge that could raise water levels 9 to 13 feet (2.7 to 4 meters), along with large and dangerous waves and flash flooding inland.
Thousands of Quintana Roo residents and tourists were hunkering down in government shelters. Everyone had been ordered off the streets by 7 p.m. While top winds weakened slightly over land, Delta was expected to carve a path of destruction across the peninsula before moving into the Gulf of Mexico later in the day.
By 7 a.m. local time, it was centered about 35 miles (55 kilometers) inland, due west of Cancun. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 30 miles (45 kilometers) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds reached 140 miles (220 kilometers) from the center.
The evacuations of low lying areas, islands and the coastline expanded as Delta exploded over the warm Caribbean waters offshore. Much of Cancun’s hotel zone was cleared out as guests were bused to inland shelters. In Cancun alone, the government opened 160 shelters.
Some 300 guests and nearly 200 staff from the Fiesta Americana Condesa hotel were taken to the Technological Institute of Cancun campus. All wearing masks, they spread out on thin mattresses in a classroom building and tried to get comfortable as workers boarded up the building’s windows in a light rain. Some played cards or watched videos on their phones, while others called relatives.
“The hotel has done a good job of making sure that we were provided for and that we’re going to be safe here in this place, so we don’t have any concerns at all,” said Shawn Sims, a tourist from Dallas sheltering with his wife, Rashonda Cooper, and their sons, 7-year-old Liam and 4-year-old Easton.
“This is my first (hurricane) experience, but I see that these guys have a plan and they know what they’re doing,” Sims said.
State tourism officials said more than 40,000 tourists were in Quintana Roo, a fraction of what would normally be there. Delta’s damage comes on top of months of pandemic-induced lockdown that has devastated the state’s tourism industry.
At the Cancun Convention Center, 400 tourists from hotels and rental properties bunked for the night.
“We hope that in this place we are surely much safer,” Quintana Roo Tourism Secretary Marisol Vanegas said. “This is a structure that has withstood other hurricanes.”
Delta was forecast to spend several hours lashing the Yucatan Peninsula before moving into the Gulf of Mexico and growing into a “considerably larger” storm before striking the U.S. Gulf coast. People in Louisiana or Mississippi should prepare now for hurricane-force winds to begin hitting their coastlines on Friday, the hurricane center advised.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Delta was expected to make landfall there Friday night or Saturday morning and the entire state is in the storm’s possible path. State and local officials in coastal areas were shoring up levees, sandbagging and taking other protections measures, he said.
Louisiana is still recovering from Hurricane Laura, which ravaged the southwestern region as it roared ashore as a Category 4 storm in August. More than 6,600 Laura evacuees remain in hotels around the state, mainly in New Orleans, because their homes are too heavily damaged to return.
Mexico put the commander of its navy in charge of the federal response. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Tuesday that 5,000 federal troops and emergency personnel were being made available in Quintana Roo to aid in storm efforts.
Juan Carlos Avila arrived at the Technological Institute of Cancun shelter with his seven-months pregnant wife, Joselyn, and their 3-year-old-son, Alexander. He said the staff had made them comfortable and seemed well prepared.
The family, which lives in Miami, had been in Cancun a week and already went through Tropical Storm Gamma, which soaked the area over the weekend.
“We’ve practically lived in storms during our stay here in Cancun,” Avila said.
Associated Press writers Gabriel Alcocer in Cancun and Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, La. contributed to this report.
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