TULUM, Mexico — Hurricane Grace struck Mexico’s Caribbean coast just south of the ancient Mayan temples of Tulum early Thursday, pushing a dangerous storm surge. Heavy rain and strong winds threatened to destroy flimsier homes and keep tourists off white sand beaches until it crosses the Yucatan Peninsula.
The Category 1 storm had already soaked earthquake-damaged Haiti, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands en route to a direct hit on the Riviera Maya, the heart of Mexico’s tourism industry. Grace’s center struck just south of Tulum at 4:45 a.m. with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
Quintana Roo state opened shelters and evacuated some hotels and residents ahead of the storm’s arrival. Grace missed the popular cruise ship destination Cozumel and came ashore south of Playa del Carmen, where the downtown, usually thumping with music and clubgoers, was eerily desolate Wednesday night. Authorities had ordered all businesses closed and people inside by 8 p.m.
One exception was Axel Felix, a 37-year-old pizza deliveryman making his last drop-off of the night in a rain slicker. “Now I’m going home and I’m not going out until tomorrow,” Felix said. “You’ve got to be careful and stay at home.”
Another was Juan González, a 25-year-old student walking his dog. “At home we will be calm with food, waiting to see what happens and with the windows protected,” he said.
With little to stand in its way on the peninsula, Grace was expected to weaken slightly then regain hurricane strength in the Gulf of Mexico before making a second landfall in Mexico later this week.
Quintana Roo Gov. Carlos Joaquin said authorities had evacuated hotels that were not made to withstand hurricanes and he called a halt to alcohol sales in the region at 5 p.m. Some airlines cancelled flights to the peninsula.
On Tulum’s main drag, tourists in plastic ponchos splashed through puddles as the wind picked up. On the beach side, the surf grew and beachgoers took shelter from the blowing sand. Armed soldiers and sailors patrolled Tulum’s streets in trucks, and businesses taped and boarded up windows as lines formed at grocery stores with families stocking up on essentials.
“We’re taking precautions, buying milk, sugar, water and cookies because we don’t know how long we’ll be shut in,” said 21-year-old homemaker Adamaris García, standing in a line of dozens of people at a small store.
Meanwhile, some tourists fretted over a lost day at the beach while others prepared for their first hurricane experience.
Johanna Geys, of Munich, Germany, was having a beer in Tulum Wednesday afternoon. It was her first time in Mexico and Grace would be her first hurricane.
“We don’t know how it is (in hurricanes), ” said Geys, a 28-year-old waitress. People have been telling her it won’t be bad.
Leaving a store with some supplies, 25-year-old California law student Sarah Lynch said she wasn’t too worried.
“We have extra water. We prepared for the hurricane and we’re just going to roll with the storm and see what happens,” Lynch said. “It’s a little scary because it’s unknown, but besides that we’re okay. We made it through Covid.”
Up the coast in Cancun, fishermen dragged their boats away from the water’s edge in preparation.
“Last year it caught us like that (unprepared) because the information we get sometimes is not correct and sometimes we can endure them (the storms.),” said fisherman Carlos Canché Gonzalez. “But I don’t think it will strengthen, and from the experience we have from last year, well, if it does or it doesn’t, we have to protect our equipment. That’s what we live off, we’ve been fishermen for years.”
“For a tourist, this hurricane is really bad because we all have activities scheduled for certain days and if you cancel it impacts our vacation,” said Keny Sifuentes, a 19-year-old from Colombia, in Cancun with his family.
State authorities said that as of last week, the region was hosting about 130,000 tourists and hotels were more than half full despite the pandemic.