Hurricane Dean spares most resorts in Mexico, the Caribbean

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The major tourist areas of Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Cozumel escaped relatively unscathed from the fury of Hurricane Dean, which made landfall as a Category 5 storm near Costa Maya and Majahual, about 225 miles south of Cancun.

The cruise port of Costa Maya, however, was damaged by the storm, and the port estimated it would remain closed for six to eight months for rebuilding.

Although Dean's southern edge passed through Belize's northern region when the storm made landfall in Mexico, initial reports indicated minimal damage in San Pedro and Caye Caulker and none in Belize City.

In Mexico, about 75,000 tourists evacuated the major coastal areas by air or moved to more secure areas inland by car or charter buses, according to the Mexico Tourism Board. Those who couldn't leave or chose not to get out rode out the storm in their hotels or at the airports.

By all accounts, tourists and residents were evacuated in a more timely and organized manner than during Hurricane Wilma, a Category 4 storm that caused an estimated $2.6 billion in damages when it slammed into Cancun in 2005.

Airlines added extra flights as Dean approached, cruise ships were diverted and hotels and ground operators stepped up their operations to move visitors to properties outside the hurricane's path.

About half of the infrastructure was damaged at Costa Maya, the Mexican cruise port near the border of Belize where Dean made landfall, said Cesar Lizarraga, Costa Maya's director of sales and marketing.

The port, which includes three berths and an entertainment complex, said it hoped to have cruise ships calling back at the port by mid-2008. Officials at Costa Maya were meeting with cruise lines to reevaluate schedules.

Meanwhile, hotels were mostly open for business and reported minimal damage. Resorts in Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen that did sustain damage reported mostly broken windows and blown sand.

Grupo Aeroportuario del Sureste, the Mexican airport group that operates several of the country's busiest airports, said that the Cancun, Cozumel and Merida airports had resumed operations and were reporting minimal or no damage.

Although it's too early to estimate Dean's economic impact on Mexico's tourism industry, up to $300 million in insured losses from the storm are expected in Mexico, according to Risk Management Solutions, which calculates hurricane damage for the insurance industry. By comparison, Wilma caused $1.8 billion in insured losses, the insurance company said.

In the Caribbean, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominica and St. Lucia, the first islands to experience Dean's intensity, escaped with minor damage to their tourism infrastructure.

Hotels and airports were open for business two days later, although the crops on those islands did not fare as well. The south coasts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic bore the brunt of Dean's rain and wind.

Jamaicans appeared to heed the government warnings to take shelter. Storm damage was heaviest along the southeastern coast, although the airport in Kingston reopened two days later, following Sangster Airport's opening in Montego Bay a day after Dean hit.

Most hotels, golf courses and attractions cleaned up and reopened quickly, including properties in Kingston.

Jakes, an Island Outpost cottage property in Treasure Beach in the south of Jamaica, will reopen Sept. 28.

With electricity still out in many areas of the island, Jamaica's Electoral Commission postponed the nation's Aug. 27 general elections until a hurricane damage assessment is completed.

A wobble south by Dean spared the Cayman Islands a direct hit.

To contact the reporters who wrote this article, send e-mail to Jorge Sidron at [email protected] or Gay Nagle Myers at [email protected].

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