By Henry Romero
Hurricane Jimena smashed flimsy buildings, bent trees and tore fishing boats from their moorings as it collided with Mexico's Baja California peninsula on Wednesday.
Ports at San Carlos, La Paz, Los Cabos and Topolobampo were shut as Jimena pummeled the coast and desert towns inland with winds as high as 100 mph and torrential rains that forecasters said could cause dangerous floods and mudslides.
Two fishing boats were torn away at the tiny port of San Carlos, residents said. One crashed into the dock and broke it, and the other sank. Telephone poles and corrugated iron warehouses in the town were knocked over.
Jimena weakened to a moderate Category 1 hurricane by mid-afternoon, however, with winds down to 85 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It forecast the hurricane would peter out to tropical storm intensity during the night.
Residents of Ciudad Constitucion, further inland, surveyed damage to their homes after fleeing in the middle of the night. Police said there were no casualties.
Jimena, the second eastern Pacific storm this season to strike Mexico, drenched the upscale resort of Los Cabos on the southern tip of the peninsula overnight but there were no reports of serious injuries or damage.
Beachfront restaurants in Los Cabos swept up debris, emptied out storm sandbags and hotels removed boards from their windows as the weather calmed down. But many tourists had already cut their vacations short and flown home.
"This leaves us with a very bad week," Gonzalo Fanyutti, head of the Los Cabos hotels' association told local radio.
BENT PALM TREES
A hurricane warning remained in effect for the north of the Baja California peninsula, but by mid-afternoon Jimena was moving back offshore. It could hit land again on Thursday but as a much weaker storm.
"It wasn't that bad, you just had to sit in your house for a day," said Bill Gardner, 67, an accountant from Utah on vacation in Los Cabos, home to world-class golf courses, yachting marinas and five-star hotels.
After buffeting Los Cabos and flooding nearby slums, the storm touched land in a much more sparsely populated area.
Much of Baja California is mountainous desert, dotted with small towns. Tourists travel there to see whales, cave paintings and vineyards, while Los Cabos, normally bathed in sun from dawn to dusk, attracts planeloads of sunseekers.
"We did a last-minute booking and ended up getting a hurricane," said tourist Cathy Hallock, 60, from California.
On Wednesday several thousand people who spent the night in storm shelters around Los Cabos returned home. Some even headed for the beach and paddled in the sea.
"We were debating leaving but we're glad that we stayed," said Nate Gray, 24, of Michigan who will be in Los Cabos a few more days honeymooning with his wife.
Mexico has no big oil, coffee or mining interests in the area but a meeting of Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development officials from dozens of countries to discuss tax havens had to be moved from Los Cabos to Mexico City.