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Shelter at a luxury hotel doesn't last long for tourists fleeing Cancun

TELCHAC PUERTO, Mexico—The 390 mostly American tourists heaved a sigh of relief Thursday night when they arrived here, fleeing Cancun and Hurricane Wilma.

It wasn't the vacation they'd planned—they'd been expelled from the Hotel El Dorado Royale in Cancun, 150 miles away on the Caribbean side of the Yucatan peninsula, when the glitzy tourist strip was evacuated as Wilma bore down.

But it wasn't bad. Their new accommodation was the Hotel Reef Yucatan, one of the most luxurious places on the so-called Maya Riviera—Mexico's Yucatan tourist region. Even in pitch darkness, the grandiose stucco building with a welcoming lobby, fountains and a giant pool overlooking the ocean, looked like what they had come for.

Until Friday morning.

"And then as we were getting comfortable, they said we had to leave—Hurricane Wilma was coming," said Julie Brown, a computer technician from Cheshire, Conn. "Now we're going again."

"So much for fun," said her husband George.

For hundreds of American tourists, Wilma not only disrupted their vacations, it kept them moving as they sought shelter farther and farther inland.

The Browns and their fellow evacuees were about to be bused to Merida, 40 miles to the west, and the Universidad de Mayab, where they were to shelter with 500 other tourists who had been taken there earlier.

The sudden decision to vacate the Hotel Reef caught the tourists and the hotel's staff by surprise.

"They're taking towels, pillows, blankets. What do we do?" one hotel worker exclaimed to manager Oscar Escobedo, who was momentarily speechless before telling the worker not to worry. Not much he could do. "What, arrest them?" he muttered.

Then Escobedo tried a different tack. "Hey, those who want can stay," Escobedo told the lingering tourists, many of whom had managed to get a little suntan before the skies turned dark and the sea became a roller coaster of waves.

A chorus of moans answered the manager.

He continued his pitch. "The place is pretty strong. There won't be any television, phones, electricity, water or Internet. But we probably won't get too much damage."

Some found the possibility attractive.

"Maybe this will be better than sleeping on some floor of a university," said Louis Robinson, a retired corrections officer from Cheshire, Conn.

But in the end, everyone boarded luxury buses provided by Mexico's Ministry of Transportation and headed for the university to wait out the storm.


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): WILMA

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