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Love endures among ruins of storm-tossed vacations

MERIDA, Mexico—They were going to beachfront chapels to get married, celebrate wedding anniversaries, or just to relax.

Hurricane Wilma, however, drove them from the emerald Caribbean resort of Cancun on Thursday. They ended up some 200 miles to the west, at a university that's become a shelter for nearly 1,000 American, Canadian, British and Italian tourists.

"We got married Oct. 15 and went to Cancun for our honeymoon, and we've been here ever since," said David Darmody of Raynham, Conn., as he and his wife Lisa sat on lawn chairs and watched the dark sky for any sign of when they might be able to go home.

The nearly 1,000 evacuees left Cancun in buses brought in by Mexico's federal transportation agency. Staff members at their hotels gave them no time to pack their bags, and they could bring only blankets, pillows and toiletries.

The first stop, on Thursday night, was the fancy Hotel Reef Telchac, right on the Gulf of Mexico.

Then it was time to go again.

"We had to evacuate again, and again we couldn't bring anything," said Tampa, Fla., truck driver Tony Fabiani, who'd just married his sweetheart Robin, a physical therapist.

"There are so many sad tales. One woman went to Cancun to get married but she even had to leave her wedding gown behind," said Michael Marzyk, who was celebrating his 15th wedding anniversary. "And she's in the Army and going to Iraq in one week!"

Chase Gray and his family went to Cancun for the wedding of his brother, Brandon, but the couple couldn't tie the knot in that romantic setting.

"They are insisting on getting married today, and maybe they will," said Chase, who said they'd called a chaplain.

An argument, however, was already brewing between the newlywed Fabianis, who thought Robin might be pregnant.

"If it's a girl, I want her name to be Wilma. Just think of the stories we can tell our grandchildren," said Tony Fabiani.

"No way in the world my daughter is going to be named after this monster," answered Robin.

Roni Hainebach, who lives in a kibbutz in northern Israel on the border with Lebanon and Syria, waited for a flight at the Merida airport—any flight. She's a hurricane veteran, and her tale is stranger than fiction.

On Oct. 11, she flew to Cancun, then went to Cuba, where Hurricane Rita struck and she had to hang around for eight days. She next got a flight to Guatemala, but she got stuck there after Hurricane Stan hit Central America and Mexico.

Then, "when Wilma caught us," she got a flight from Guatemala to Playa del Carmen, a popular diving resort for the young and party-hardy.

"We finally got a flight to Cancun to relax, but after three days we got caught by Wilma," said Hainebach, who's traveling with a girlfriend. She was supposed to meet her husband in Madrid.

Like many tourists caught in Wilma's grasp, Hainebach told stories of love among the Mayan ruins.

"In Playa del Carmen, we saw a wedding party of 40 people, and just when the loving couple was about to say, `I do,' officials said they had to evacuate. The couple pleaded, `Please let us say, `I do!'"

But no go. The bride and groom were flown to Cancun, and they insisted on getting married there, but the same thing happened.

"They had to evacuate," said Hainebach. "The wife said, `I guess God doesn't want us to get married.'"

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondent Janet Schwartz contributed to this report.)

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

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

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