October 28, 2005
The once-huge throngs of tourists desperate to leave Mexico’s Caribbean coast have diminished in the wake of what Mexican insurance companies described as probably the country’s most costly disaster ever.
President Vicente Fox visited Cancun to bid farewell to flights as more and more tourists were finally able to able to get planes out yesterday, and he announced series of tax breaks and a $18.5m (€15.2m) progamme to restore Caribbean beaches ravaged by Hurricane Wilma.
Fox told departing tourists “see you again soon”, and then turned his attention to the suffering local population, asking hotel owners not to sack Cancun residents who rely on tourism for their livelihood.
“I’m asking you for zero unemployment,” Fox said in a meeting with hotel operators. “I’m asking you not fire anyone, to keep them in their regular positions or use them in rebuilding.”
The Mexican insurance association said yesterday that Wilma is expected to have caused more insured damage than 1988’s Hurricane Gilbert, which resulted in payments of $1.2bn (€988m) to policy holders on the Yucatan peninsula.
“Obviously, Wilma is possibly the biggest catastrophe we’ve ever had in the Mexican insurance sector,” said Rolando Vega, the association’s president.
Fox said that about $500m (€412m) in rebuilding loans would be available from various sources private banks and international financing organisations - as well as tax breaks for local businesses.
Mexico’s Environmental Department said Hurricane Wilma ripped into coral reefs and damaged more than 1 million acres of trees on the Yucatan peninsula, creating fuel for possible forest fires in the upcoming dry season.
Yet, despite the signs of progress, many residents were left behind. On Isla Mujeres, people complained of limited access to drinking water and homes destroyed by high winds, waves and flooding. The hurricane dragged the public beach’s sand across much of the island, blocking streets and filling homes and businesses with the snowy white grains.
Hundreds waited in line with plastic jugs, hoping to get a bit of drinking water brought in daily by ferries that have resumed service to all islands in the area. Helicopters fly in more aid, taking off from Cancun’s bullring.
Many complained they weren’t getting bottled water or food stockpiled at a local senior centre.
Leticia Chavez, 34, who works for a tourism co-operative on the island, said people were getting frustrated. “We don’t want a disaster, but there are people considering looting the food inside” the senior centre, she said.
Many residents stayed on Isla Mujeres as the storm hit, ripping apart even cinderblock homes. “I was a housewife,” said Guillermina Canul, 70. “But now I don’t have a house.”