TULUM, Mexico (AP) — Mexico's Caribbean coast readied for the arrival of Hurricane Grace on Wednesday, evacuating some smaller hotels, opening shelters and suspending ferry service to Cozumel as the Category 1 storm drove toward the heart of the country's tourism industry.
Grace was expected to make landfall before dawn Thursday between Tulum, known for its low-rise hotels and hip nightlife, and the island of Cozumel. Gov. Carlos Joaquin said that 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.
On Wednesday evening, Grace had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph) and was moving west at 18 mph (30 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. The storm’s center was located about 125 miles (205 kilometers) east-southeast of Tulum.
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.
Businesses began taping and boarding up windows and lines formed at grocery stores as families stocked 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 during their vacations 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 will 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.
AP journalist Dan Christian Rojas in Cancun contributed to this report.
Fabiola Sánchez, The Associated Press