Foreign tourists wait in line to make a phone call.
Omar Torres  /  AFP - Getty Images
Foreign tourists trapped by Hurricane Wilma in Cancun, Mexico, wait in line to make phone calls .
By Peter Alexander Correspondent
NBC News
updated 10/27/2005 8:03:43 AM ET 2005-10-27T12:03:43

CANCUN, Mexico — For the first time in days, the sun was shining on Cancun again.

But for many of the tourists still stranded here on Monday, the situation is anything but sunny — they may have survived the storm, but now they find themselves weathering seemingly endless uncertainty and misery.

With the tourism area around Cancun largely devastated and no form of transportation out of the usually serene beach resort, many vacationers, most of them Americans, remain unsure how or when they will make it back home.

The devastation is considerable. In contrast to the way that Hurricane Wilma has raced through Florida moving at about 20 miles an hour,its trip across Cancun and the northern Yucatan peninsula was an excruciatingly slow two miles an hour.

This meant the storm, which packed 140 mph winds, had more time to wreak havoc. Like many others, I slept in the bathtub because I was afraid that the windows would blow into my hotel room-turned-shelter.

The dire situation many people have been facing here is overwhelming. A lot of the shelters are low on food and water. There is also no power or running water in a lot of places. The water was turned on here for a short time on Monday and people scrambled for showers. 

No idea what is going on
But cleanliness is hardly the biggest issue — the greatest concerns are safety and lack of  communication.

At night, once the sun goes down and it gets dark, things have been kind of frightening.

Yesterday we watched people race across across the street for what initially appeared to be food hand-outs from one of the emergency centers. It quickly became apparent, though, that they were looting.

And not just groceries — the thieves were taking things like shoes, chairs, fans and clothing. And one guy was using all his strength to take an entire stove out of a store.  

For the American tourists here, with the images of Hurricane Katrina so fresh in people’s minds, this was a very eerie déjà vu. A lot of people in the shelters who had boarded up their doors to protect themselves from the storm found themselves using the same pieces of wood to shield themselves from bandits and looters that they feared would turn on them.

Thankfully, there haven’t been any reports of attacks of that sort and the looting appears to have subsided, but that hasn’t made life much easier.

On top of fears comes frustration. With communications almost totally destroyed, people have little sense of how the heck they are going to get out of here and what is going on.

No way home
The Mexican government has been doing the best, but there isn’t a whole lot of relief reaching the people who are stranded here.

Mexico’s President Vicente Fox was here briefly last night to tour the area. He said that the tourists and local residents will all be well looked after.

In some places people are pretty well taken care of and there haven’t been a lot of problems. But in other places, there is really a lot of frustration and anger.

One couple, Charles and Tiffany Kiefer from Durham, N.C., were here on their honeymoon. But, they’ve spent four nights sleeping on a small classroom floor alongside 25 other people. They were down to six small bottles of water.

Whenever American tourists see us coming, they are demanding answers. They want to know what the U.S. government is doing. They feel like they are being ignored and abandoned because this hurricane was going to hit Florida and that the U.S. government doesn’t care about them. They simply feel like they are getting no information.

But relief may be on the way. Mexican officials are hoping that the storm-tossed Cancun airport will re-open on Tuesday.

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