Playa del Carmen, Mexico — A hurricane race struck the Caribbean coast of Mexico, just south of the ancient Maya Temple in Tulum, early Thursday, causing a dangerous storm surge. Heavy rains and strong winds could destroy thinner homes and keep tourists away from the white sands until they crossed the Yucatan Peninsula.
The Category 1 storm had already flooded Jamaica’s Haiti and Cayman Islands, which were damaged by the earthquake, on its way to hit the Riviera Maya, the center of Mexico’s tourism industry. According to the US National Hurricane Center, Grace’s center struck just south of Tulum at 4:45 CST, with a maximum wind speed of 80 mph.
As we moved overland, the storm weakened slightly, but maintained the strength of the hurricane early Thursday. It was traveling west across the peninsula at 17 mph and was located approximately 45 mph south-southeast of Valladolid, Mexico.
The storm was predicted to reappear across the Gulf of Mexico from Thursday night to Friday.
Tree branches were scattered on the streets of Playa del Carmen, north of where Grace landed on Thursday morning. Some power lines were lithely hanging, and strong gusts blew heavy rain.
Quintana Roo opened shelters prior to the arrival of the storm, evacuating some hotels and residents. Grace missed Cozumel, a popular cruise ship destination, and landed south of Playa del Carmen. In Playa del Carmen, downtown was eerily desolate on Wednesday night, crowded with music and club enthusiasts. Authorities closed all businesses by 8 pm and ordered people inside.
The only exception was Axel Felix, a 37-year-old pizza deliveryman, who made his final drop-off in the rain. “Now I’m home and I won’t go out until tomorrow,” Felix said. “You need to be careful at home.”
The other was Juan Gonzalez, a 25-year-old student walking a dog. “At home, you’ll see what happens, protect your windows, and calm down with food,” he said.
With few standings on the peninsula, Grace was expected to weaken slightly and make a second landing in Mexico later this week after regaining hurricane strength in the Gulf of Mexico.
Quintana Roo Governor Carlos Joaquin said authorities had evacuated a hotel that couldn’t tolerate a hurricane and called for a stoppage of alcohol sales in the area at 5 pm. Some airlines have canceled flights to the peninsula.
In Tulum’s main drug, when the wind was strong, tourists wearing plastic ponchos splattered into puddles. On the beach side, the waves grew and people who went to the beach evacuated from the blowing sand. Companies taped windows and boarded as armed soldiers and sailors patrolled the city of Tulum by truck, and families stocked up on essentials at grocery stores.
“I don’t know how long I’ll be trapped, so I’m taking precautions to buy milk, sugar, water, and cookies,” said 21-year-old housewife Adamalis Garcia in a line of dozens. In a small store.
Meanwhile, some tourists rushed to the lost day on the beach, while others prepared for their first hurricane experience.
Johanna Geys in Munich, Germany, was drinking beer in Tulum on Wednesday afternoon. Her first time in Mexico and Grace will be her first hurricane.
“I don’t know what’s going on (in the hurricane),” said Geys, a 28-year-old waitress. People have told her it wouldn’t be bad.
Sarah Lynch, a 25-year-old California law student who left the store with some supplies, said she wasn’t too worried.
“There’s extra water. We’ll be caught up in the storm and see what happens in preparation for a hurricane,” Lynch said. “I’m a little scared because I’m not sure, but otherwise it’s okay. I succeeded with COVID.”
As of last week, the area was visited by about 130,000 tourists and the hotel was more than half full despite the pandemic, according to state officials.