After Emily, Resorts breathe a sigh of relief

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MIAMI -- Hurricane Emily, the fifth named storm of the 2005 season, slammed into resort areas of Mexicos Yucatan peninsula on July 18, but largely sideswiped Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

Grenada, too, dodged a bullet, reporting minimal damage to two properties on Carriacou.

In Cancun and Cozumel, tourists and residents were forced to evacuate and many in the region lost power, but most of the infrastructure was spared.

Emily made landfall north of Tulum -- on the Yucatan coast south of Cancun -- as a Category 4 storm, with 135 mile-per-hour winds, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The most powerful part of the hurricane, the northern eye-wall, reportedly passed over the popular resort island of Cozumel, where damage was said to be minimal. Cozumels airport is expected to reopen by July 19.

Local Mexican police have reported no injuries or deaths, and structural damage to resorts and hotels in the region, at least on the mainland, appears to be limited.

According to the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau (CCVB), damage in the Caribbean resort city was minimal, consisting mainly of downed power lines, but full power quickly was restored in the hotel zone and the citys airport reopened.

The city looks a little disheveled because of the downed trees, but beside that everything is exactly the same, said Marisa Steta, marketing director for the CCVB, adding that the city is 85% back to normal.

The CCVB is advising U.S. travelers with imminent departures to Cancun to continue with their travel plans as early as July 20, as everything is perfect, including streets, local transit, lights, water and telephones, she said.

There was no major damage to any hotel, so if tourists still want to come they should, Steta added. Its a little cloudy today, but were expecting a sunny day [July 20].

Similarly, a handful of resorts in the greater Cancun/Riviera Maya area contacted by phone, including some on Cozumel, reported minimal damage.

All-inclusive chain Palace Resorts said that broken glass was the worst damage reported at its seven area properties, although assessments were still being made at its Xpu Ha Palace on the Riviera Maya.

All our resorts -- even Cozumel Palace -- are doing fine, said a spokeswoman, adding that several properties, such as Aventura Palace near Tulum, served as shelters for displaced tourists. In fact, Moon Palace Golf and Spa Resort in Cancun proper was the broadcast center for the Weather Channel.

Iberostar officials said they had not heard from four of their Cozumel and Riviera Maya resorts. However, the Iberostar Tucan/Quetzal Playacar two-resort complex reported damage to restaurants, beaches and pools, according to a spokeswoman.

Farther south, cruise port Puerto Costa Maya experienced little in the way of infrastructure damage.

Robert Perusquia, assistant manager at the port authority in Puerto Costa Maya, said power was out -- likely for another 24 hours, until July 19 -- but tourists nevertheless were heading back to hotels from shelters.

Its okay here, he said. The storm has passed and all our hotels are reportedly okay.

Cruise lines shuffled itineraries to take ships out of harms way. Carnival shifted the itineraries of the Carnival Glory, which departed July 16 from Port Canaveral, Fla., and the Elation, which departed July 17 from Galveston, Texas, from western Caribbean routes to eastern Caribbean ports.

Norwegian Cruise Line sent the Norwegian Sea, which sailed July 16 from Houston, to Key West, Fla., instead of southward to Cozumel. A spokesman said that it was evaluating itinerary options beyond the Key West call.

Royal Caribbean International was still deciding the best course for its Empress of the Seas, which departed July 18 and was originally scheduled to call in Cozumel on July 20 and Costa Maya on July 21. Passengers were notified that the itinerary might be revised depending on conditions in the two ports.

In the Caribbean, power in Grenada, still recovering from Hurricane Ivan last September, was quickly restored and the airport reopened. Minister of tourism Brenda Hood said that although Emily inflicted some damage on the north coast, the bulk of Grenadas hotels, tourist sites, attractions and dive sites were undamaged.

For example, Spice Island Beach Resort, which is in the midst of a $10 million rebuilding project from Ivan, emerged unscathed as did Blue Horizons Garden Resort, which reopened earlier this month following a $1.5 million refurbishment.

In Jamaica, minister of industry and tourism Aloun Ndombet Assamba, said that tourism regions reported little or no damage. Emily passed 60 miles south of Jamaica, and we are extremely fortunate once more to have been spared the potential wrath of a very serious storm, she said. Hurricane Dennis dumped rain and wind on Jamaica less than a week ago, but did not cause serious infrastructure damage.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected]. To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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