Hurricane hovers over southern Baja California

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

LA PAZ, Mexico -- Hurricane Ignacio drenched fishermen and tourists Monday along the Baja California Peninsula, where it stalled after forcing more than 3,000 people from their homes.

Mexican sailors aboard motorboats struggled against strong winds to pull sailboats off the rocks in the harbor of La Paz, the state capital and a popular tourist destination. The Red Cross said there were no reports of injury or death.

Rear Admiral Joaquin Garcia Silva said those aboard small civilian boats had been evacuated to shore, leaving behind a few craft loose on the storm-tossed waters.

The hurricane tore up a highway, blew down beach huts and knocked down trees with winds that topped 90 mph. Power was cut to La Paz.

"It could have been worse. It could have caught us while we were out there," said Buddy Holt, 36, of Dallas, as he watched the choppy water off of La Paz's boardwalk.

By midday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Ignacio's maximum sustained winds had slipped to about 80 mph, but the storm had stalled about 20 miles northeast of La Paz.

Forecasters said the storm was likely to crawl slowly up the southern Gulf of California toward Loreto while gradually edging over the peninsula itself.

Hotels in Loreto and La Paz each receive about 40,000 foreign tourists a year, mostly U.S. citizens, according to statistics from Mexico's tourism department.

Storm warnings were posted for the coasts of both Baja California and mainland Mexico in a major commercial and recreational fishing zone.

It was unclear if the storm would eventually move far enough north to bring rain to the southwestern United States.

Officials said that about 3,000 people stayed in shelters Sunday night. Many, like Abram Pineda, 22, had lived in low-lying cardboard shacks.

"We left our house last night because it felt like the house was going to blow away," he said.

Small fishing boats were pulled out of the water and moored to palm trees around La Paz. Larger boats were either tied up to docks or headed out to sea to ride out the storm.

The hurricane bypassed Cabo San Lucas, known for its deep-sea fishing, golf courses and a famous arch-shaped rock formation. The resort town is 50 miles south of La Paz.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said rainfall of more than 20 inches could cause life-threatening flash flooding and mud slides.

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