Sunday, November 06, 2005

'Mexico Scrambles To Repair, Re-Open Its Coastal Resorts' - Nov. 6 Vt. Times Argus

* Please note that this article erroneously states that Playa Norte was stripped of its beach -- NOT TRUE! Just scroll down to fotos and links to more photos of Post-Wilma Playa Norte & Playa Sol -- all with Cancun's sand. ~ LDC

Mexico scrambles to repair, re-open its coastal resorts

November 6, 2005 © 2005 Times Argus

By SUSAN FERRISS Cox News Service

CANCUN, Mexico – Hurricane Wilma, Mexico's most expensive natural disaster ever, has insurance agents and desperate hotel chains scurrying to survey and repair widespread damage in one of the world's most profitable tourism destinations.

Wilma claimed miraculously few human lives in Mexico. But the economic impact couldn't be greater as this part of the country struggles to recover from the massive storm.

The estimated cost of repairing Cancun and other Caribbean resorts is reaching into the billions of dollars.

The state of Quintana Roo, where Cancun sits, accounts for 38 percent of the country's tourism revenue. The hit from Wilma prompted Goldman Sachs to lower its estimate for 2005 economic growth in Mexico, from 2.8 percent to 2.5 percent.

Officials say that about 80 percent of the hotels in Cancun suffered some damage, robbing the local economy of about $15 million a day. The city's more than 750,000 residents all depend directly or indirectly on tourism.

"I speak English. I have an education. And now I'm in the same shape as the poorest here," said a devastated Lyssette Casarin, 35, whose workplace, Cancun's popular Lorenzillo's restaurant, was reduced to floating rubble by the storm.

The damage assessment from Wilma was under way even before airlines could get all of tens of thousands of foreign tourists stranded here on flights out of Cancun.

Thousands languished here into the weekend, a week after Wilma struck, standing in long lines to get boarding passes, running out of money, sometimes shelling out thousands of extra credit-card dollars to airlines and angry that departure information was so hard to obtain.

President Vicente Fox set Dec. 15 – the start of the lucrative winter tourist season – as an ambitious target for getting 80 percent of rooms on the famed Cancun hotel strip restored and ready for visitors.

But a key attraction for U.S. and other tourists is missing – Wilma washed much of the sandy beach away.

The government wants to quickly push ahead with a Herculean project to dredge sand and deposit it where waves now wash up against some hotel property foundations. Already in the planning stages before Wilma struck, the beach restoration is certain now to cost much more than the $200 million that the government had budgeted.

Restoration of some hotel rooms is already under way and bulldozers were busy clearing debris. Some tour operators were already planning to fly in tourists to the lesser-damaged resorts of the Maya Riviera as early as next week.

Fox toured the disaster zone by helicopter Friday and heard shouts for water and food relief from flood victims on Holbox Island off the Yucatan Peninsula.

"Zero bureaucracy," Fox said, and he promised a "quick solution" to the crisis.

Running water remains scarce in many of the poorer areas and sewage-soaked streets are covered with lime to prevent the spread of disease.

Fox has made two trips here in less than a week and apologized to the poor for delays in help.

"The authorities are focused on the hotel zone. Of course, we all live from that so we agree with doing that. But we urgently need water and electricity here. It's always the big guys first, then the little ones. It's like that in all the countries in the world," said Ivonne Rosado, 41, who – until Wilma – was a maid in a beauty shop at the Ritz-Carlton hotel.

Rosado surveyed a sopping heap of sofas, mattresses and ruined appliances outside her cinderblock home in the working-class Las Culebras barrio, which was engulfed by more than five feet of water during a fierce night of the hurricane. The maid and other occupants made a desperate swim to safety through the darkness to get to a home on higher ground down their street.

Fox is offering emergency federal reconstruction funds and pressuring banks to postpone debt collection. The government is also allowing hotels to forgo tax payments and postpone paying employee government social security benefits in exchange for the hotels doing the best they can to keep workers on payroll.

"Many of those who work here in the hotels live by tips. They make about $5 a day in wages," said Edgar Gonzalez, 30, a reception manager at the Royal Solaris Cancun.

No tourist or resident deaths were reported in Cancun or the nearby islands of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres. Three Mexicans in other parts of the Yucatan peninsula died from burns in incidents related to the storm.

In downtown Cancun, at an intersection where Delta Air Lines set up card tables to issue boarding passes, Atlanta architect John Eisenlau, 42, stood with scores of other tourists grimly trying to get on an emergency flight.

"I'd give it a year at best" before most of the strip is ready for guests, he said. "You want to analyze this building by building before letting anyone in."

A guest at the Royal Mayan Hotel, Eisenlau said he and others in his shelter had to go out ins the eye of the storm and after to find syringes and other medicines for people with diabetes and help doctors figure out dosages for elderly people who didn't have medical information at hand.

Stranded tourists, as many as an estimated 35,000 to 40,000, mostly praised Mexican hotel workers for protecting them and feeding them during the hurricane, although sanitation became horrible in many shelters and some people became ill.

Complaints about airlines and the U.S. government response were plentiful.

"It's just unreal. We were let down," said Valley, Ala., resident Richard Tharpe, 48, who used his cellular phone to call the State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City and senators to describe the dire conditions.

"Our country didn't pull through for us," said Tamara Spencer of Albany, N.Y., who was packed into a theater serving as a shelter for days.

U.S. officials said they did their best under trying circumstances.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Judith Bryan accompanied U.S. consular officials from Mexico City who had to plow through a deeply flooded highway with the help of Mexican marines after spending a night by the side of the road.

"It took us 24 hours to get here and that was part of the problem," she said.

U.S. officials faced the daunting task of helping far more U.S. citizens than any other country, she said. When the storm hit, there were an estimated 12,000 Americans in 180 locations in the Cancun area and another 5,000 to 7,000 down the coast.

As the Atlantic region faces the possibility of more monster hurricanes in the future after a tough season, Wilma has left Mexico – and other vulnerable regions of Latin America – with valuable lessons on the need to improve plans for evacuation and recovery.

Hurricane Stan only weeks ago claimed thousands of lives in Central America in landslides that buried villages and flooding.

This weekend, a new storm named Beta was bearing down on Colombia and Nicaragua.

Former Austin, Texas, resident Adair Crow, 46, rode out the storm on the upper floor of his home in a working-class area of Cancun, where he runs a now damaged photography and graphics studio.

Helping his dejected neighbors pile up their ruined belongings in huge heaps on the street, he said, "People have so much money invested here that Mexico is not going to let it die. I think the market is going to have to change because we don't have a beach."

He added: "People come here for the beach, the booze and the babes."

© 2005 Times Argus


Blogger Riviera Maya Paradise Dreamer said...

Rejoicing after Wilma the Worst!!!

Playa Lovers!

Well, the 48 hour wrath of Wilma could not dampen our Mayan spirit here in Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya. We are rejoicing and ready to share our incredible paradise with you and your friends -- as we always have.

Ajua Maya, our restaurant, came through like a good luck charm and our Wild Fresh Mayans as well. If anything, they are more joyous than ever before after experiencing the rain and wind and rain and wind and rain and wind and rain and wind -- a true Mayan cleansing!!

Playa del Carmen Mayan Cleansing and Rebirth

Jorge, Alejandro, our entire Mayan staff and myself are so grateful for having the pleasure to share one of Mother Nature's great cleansing and to feel the spiritual energy of the rebirth.

What a gift from the universe -- the beaches are wider and more beautiful; the cenotes and caves are cleansed; the sea is as beautiful as ever; the water supply has been replenished; the trees pruned and ready for a lush new presence; birds are chirping; the fish are running; and life is refreshing -- a true gift for all.

We are rejoicing and will wish to share this with all of you -- so come to Playa as soon as you can, join the jubilance, and marvel in the awesome rejuvenating power of nature and its universe.


The Wonderful Truth -- Hotels and More –

go to – the official Riviera Maya website for the promotion of the Riviera Maya.

The Riviera Maya (south of Cancun to Tulum) is up and running and ready for tourists. Flights schedules are resuming normalcy today. Yesterday we received tourists from Holland and Miami!

Most hotels are up and running now, including those on the beachfront. We know this as a fact since our own Public Relations Director has gone and visited each and every one, talking with concierges and the reception staffs for the "real scoop".

The smaller ones never really closed; the larger all inclusives as well. Some of the all inclusive and large hotels will be opening at 30-50% capacity for the next couple of weeks -- and guess what -- for this time of year that is their occupancy rate!

By Thanksgiving, most will be open at 100% and you can guarantee by Christmas all will be.

Blue Parrot had a celebration just a couple of days ago and is back on its party track once again -- and their rooms are up and running as well.

Same for the restaurants and bars -- Ajua opened Sunday night and was the first to open in town just as Wilma meandered on out of our area; most others 1-2 days afterwards. Of course it was difficult for a couple of days and those days have past.

Electricity, water, DSL service -- we have it all -- and remember that Ajua is a FREE wireless hotspot for all you diehard workers out their.

HERE IS A GREAT STORY ABOUT AJUA MAYA's WILD FRESH MAYANS and their dedication and commitment to you and to all of us. Most of our waiters and our manager live in Cancun and the highway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen was impassable for several days due to flooding. Each one of them waded and swam through water up to their necks for about a mile or more to get to the other side. They then waited on the highway until they could get a ride to Playa and, once they arrived, worked to clean up and reopen Ajua!

We are all eternally grateful for their spirit, their love and compassion, and their positive energy to see us and our staff through a most difficult couple of days to the rebirth on the other side.

On November 1st through the 2nd, we will celebrate the Mayan and Aztec festival -- the Day of the Dead -- a festival to remember your ancestors and to party with them in this life. We will do the same with life, energy, gratefulness and of course Tequila, Tamales, Day of the Dead bread, flowers and stories of those who have gone through this path before us.

We hope you will share this day and these experiences with us through your thoughts and your prayers.

Brenda Alfaro -- loving every moment of the journey.

Government Unity and Cooperation

-- rarely a phrase you actually see these days. If there is one story to actually tell it is the incredible work and cooperation we experienced with the local, state and federal government here in Mexico -- and the federal government is a political arch rival of the local and state governments here -- and all worked well.

They federal government had relief and repair workers staged and ready to enter the moment Wilma finalllllllly left. Within 24 hours electricity and water were restored to the center part of Playa del Carmen. Food and water came in and was distributed 3-4 times a day in the local neighborhoods in town. Free lamina to replace roofs was provided by the local governments to all who came -- and many did.

Within 48 hours the cleanup commenced of all the weak and rotten tree limbs and plants, buildings, palapas, and structures that flew around and that work has just about finished in all neighborhoods.

We, as a people here, heard no apologies by government officials nor the blame game -- since they all worked together in an organized, efficient, and cooperative team.

Sam's Club opened it doors to everyone - member or not. Prices stayed the same. Gasoline was available during the storm and was replenished within 24 hours of Wilma's departure.

The tourists were taken care of by their hotels with safe accommodations and hot food. The ones that suffered the most were those who never left those hotels after Wilma's departure and, of course, those in Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Cozumel where Wilma hit with all her fury for 48 hours. Those who ventured out found a town up and running with wonderful people ready to serve and share life with them again.

What can you do to help?

The most important is to please go on the chat rooms and message boards and relay this message to them.

Forward this email to all you know -- get the real news out.


Brenda and Jorge Alfaro
Ajua Maya Restaurant and Ajua Weddings

"Paying if Forward on the Riviera Maya"

6/11/05 11:34  

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