CANCUN, Mexico — With Hurricane Wilma headed their way, tourists stranded in Cancun are bracing the worst.
The Category 4 hurricane that forecasters have predicted could strengthen to a Category 5 storm before hitting land has left an estimated 20,000 tourists stranded in Mexico, forced to evacuate their beachfront hotels and move inland for safety.
Many of the area hotels have become makeshift shelters. One hotel with the capacity for 350 guests, hosted more than twice as many people overnight.
While they wait for the slow-moving storm to make landfall, many of the tourists have turned to the camaraderie of strangers to wait it out.
At the Oasis America Hotel, the conference room last night was so full that you could barely walk through it.
Stranded strangers from all over the world were lying side-by-side like sardines. But, the hotel hosts made the most of it and passed around a Hurricane Wilma 2005 autograph book.
“It’s like a campground in Cancun and that’s fun for the moment. But, we’ll have to wait until the wind starts, maybe then we’ll have a different story,” said Glenn Adams from Castle Rock, Colo., on vacation in Cancun with his wife and two daughters.
They arrived in Cancun last Saturday and were scheduled to leave this Saturday, but their plans were abandoned. Adams now anticipates that they will be stuck in Cancun until Wednesday.
For his daughter Katie, 13, experiencing the howling winds and harsh rain of her first hurricane was “kind of crazy.”
But, even though she is more used to snowstorms than hurricanes, she was able to sleep through much of the noise of the approaching storm last night. “I was kind of scared. But, I went sleep.”
Space a squeeze, but patience may be at a premium
Many of the hotels in Cancun say they have enough food and water to accommodate their guests for the next several days.
However, they have improvised. For example, the Oasis America Hotel crammed 15 beach chairs into a regular hotel room with two double beds.
But the real concern may be that evacuees are running are short on patience.
The pace of the storm has slowed significantly as it takes its agonizing journey toward shore. First it was expected to hit Thursday night, then the forecast was for Friday morning, and now the eye of the storm may not hit until late Friday afternoon or early evening.
People here are anxious to know when they might be able to leave.
Mitch Gold, a tourist from Middleton, Colo., on vacation with his wife and daughter explained that he had originally thought they would be spared the brunt of the storm, but now realizes that apparently he was wrong.
“It seems to heading right toward us, which is kind of scary,” said Gold. “I heard about Katrina and Rita and all the problems they had. I’m just not looking forward to that at all if it happens here.”
But, his wife, Rhonda Gold, at least found the anticipation exciting for the moment. “I grew up in the tornado belt, so I’m used to tornadoes, but it’s not like this. It’s very exciting.”
In the meantime, with metal roofs already beginning to peel off and signs ripping off their stands, tourists are staying safely inside.
Hopefully they’ll all get the chance to say what Ryan Gold, 12, hopes to tell her classmates back in Colorado, “I survived Wilma.”