Los Cabos, Mexico, starts to recover from Hurricane Odile
Nancy Lacy looked out at the naked palm trees, the boulder-filled infinity pools and the concrete sea wall that once was and now wasn’t.
“Wow,” she said quietly from the reception area at her Cabo San Lucas hotel. “It’s all gone.”
Nearly one month after Hurricane Odile hit Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, battering hotels, stranding travelers and leaving tens of thousands of people without water and electricity, some parts of the resort area are still in shambles.
But Los Cabos, an area that includes the towns of Cabo San Lucas and nearby San Jose del Cabo, is starting to recover.
Last week, several air carriers resumed international flights to the region. Some resorts have reopened, though about two-thirds of the 16,000 hotel rooms in Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo remain closed as work crews dredge sand from pools and replace blown-out windows and missing roofs.
When Lacy and her husband arrived Saturday from Seattle for the reopening of the Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort & Spa, they were greeted with mariachis and special cocktails — a sign of the region’s eagerness to bring back vacationers after tens of thousands were evacuated in the days after the storm.
The hurricane sent torrential rains across many Mexican states and resulted in several deaths. It was a blow to an economy that has suffered hits on other fronts: the global recession, a 2009 outbreak of swine flu and persistent perceptions that drug cartel violence has made all of Mexico unsafe.
“We were just beginning to recover,” said Oscar Ortiz, 42, who owns a company that offers scuba diving and whale-watching tours.
Ortiz scrolled through photos on his cellphone from the days after the storm. One showed the splintered remains of two of his boats; another his living room, strewn with broken glass, fragments of furniture and a soggy Bible.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has toured Los Cabos several times since the storm struck and has offered tax breaks and other aid to businesses — a testament to the community’s vital role in Mexico’s tourism economy.
Immediately after the storm, the government sent soldiers to help evacuate tourists — including about 10,000 Americans — whose flights had been canceled because of damage to the airport in San Jose.
Those early days were chaotic, with no electricity, no water and widespread looting. Merchandise was cleared from the shelves at dozens of stores, with some police officers rumored to have joined in. A few weeks ago, a senior Cabo San Lucas official was arrested after suspected stolen items were found at his home, including a new motorcycle and three microwave ovens.
For Ruty Osuna, a 21-year-old bartender, the storm revealed the level of corruption in local government.
“Imagine watching the police steal TVs,” he said. “You lose confidence in everything.”
With a large number of hotels, shops and restaurants still closed and some service jobs on hold, some workers are struggling.
Many came from other parts of Mexico in search of work and live inland in simple wooden shacks along pitted, dusty dirt roads. Their vulnerable houses were among the most affected by the storm.
Anaberta Brito Hernandez, 39, who said she came to Cabo San Lucas seven years ago fleeing cartel violence in Guerrero state, lost part of her home’s scrap metal roof to the 125-mph winds.
The roof of nearby Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, a small Roman Catholic church, was also stripped.
On Sunday, parishioners gathered for Mass under a flapping blue tarp.
“We’re going to build it again,” said Ramon Salgado, 50, who played guitar during the service.
The hurricane took almost everything, he said, including some pews. But one thing remained: a small statue of Jesus Christ.
Seeing the statue there after the storm “was such a beautiful feeling,” Salgado said. He put his hand on his heart.
“I don’t want to cry,” he said. “But it felt like it’s a message, that we are protected, that he is here.”
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