Hurricane Delta made landfall Wednesday just south of the Mexican resort of Cancun as an extremely dangerous Category 2 storm, downing trees and knocking out power to some resorts along the northeastern coast of Yucatan Peninsula. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said satellite imagery, radar data from Cuba and surface observations in Mexico indicate that the center of Delta came ashore around 5:30 a.m. local time, sustaining top winds of 110 mph.
Delta’s rapid intensification was the fastest in the Caribbean since Hurricane Wilma’s. That storm went from 75 mph to 185 mph in just 24 hours, notes CBS News meteorologist and climate specialist Jeff Berardelli.
Over the past few decades, intensification has been increasing by about 3 to 4 mph per decade due to hotter waters from human-caused climate change, he points out. That means a system in 1980 that may have intensified by 40 mph in 24 hours might now intensify at 55 mph in 24 hours.
CBS News meteorologist David Parkinson called Delta’s weakening from its 145 mph peak to 110 mph “a remarkable overnight turn of events” that could mean Yucatan is going to “dodge a major bullet.”
Civil defense official Luís Alberto Vázquez said there were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries, but Delta had toppled about 95 trees and knocked out electricity to parts of Cancun and Cozumel. Ortega said about 39,000 people had been evacuated in the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan, and that about 2,700 people had taken refuge in storm shelters in the two states.
Early Wednesday, guests of the Fiesta Americana Condesa hotel awoke in the sweltering classrooms of the Technological Institute of Cancun campus where they had been moved Tuesday.
All of the windows had been covered with plywood so they couldn’t see what was happening, but they said the howling winds started around 2 a.m. and there had been heavy rain. The power – and with it the air conditioning – had been knocked out early Wednesday so it was steamy as tourists used their cell phone light to get up and make their way for a first cup of coffee.
“The hard part has been the waiting,” said Ana Karen Rodríguez of Monterrey. She and a friend arrived in Cancun Tuesday morning and by afternoon were shuttled to the shelter. She said the hotel had planned well. “It’s been good. I feel comfortable actually.”
Throughout the day Tuesday, the situation had appeared grave for this stretch of the Mexican coast.
Delta had increased in strength by 80 mph in just 24 hours, and its top winds peaked at 145 mph (230 kph) before it weakened as it neared the shore. Forecasters warned it was still an extremely dangerous storm nevertheless, with a life-threatening storm surge that could raise water levels 9 to 13 feet (2.7 to 4 meters), along with large and dangerous waves and flash flooding inland.
Thousands of Quintana Roo residents and tourists were hunkering down in government shelters. Everyone had been ordered off the streets by 7 p.m.
The evacuations of low lying areas, islands and the coastline expanded as Delta exploded over the warm Caribbean waters offshore. Much of Cancun’s hotel zone was cleared out as guests were bused to inland shelters. In Cancun alone, the government opened 160 shelters.
State tourism officials said more than 40,000 tourists were in Quintana Roo, a fraction of what would normally be there. Delta’s damage comes on top of months of pandemic-induced lockdown that has devastated the state’s tourism industry.
At the Cancun Convention Center, 400 tourists from hotels and rental properties bunked for the night.
“We hope that in this place we are surely much safer,” Quintana Roo Tourism Secretary Marisol Vanegas said. “This is a structure that has withstood other hurricanes.”
Delta was forecast to spend several hours lashing the Yucatan Peninsula before moving into the Gulf of Mexico and growing into a “considerably larger” storm before striking the U.S. Gulf coast. People in Louisiana or Mississippi should prepare now for hurricane-force winds to begin hitting their coastlines on Friday, the hurricane center advised.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said Delta was expected to make landfall there Friday night or Saturday morning and the entire state is in the storm’s possible path. State and local officials in coastal areas were shoring up levees, sandbagging and taking other protections measures, he said.
Louisiana is still recovering from Hurricane Laura, which ravaged the southwestern region as it roared ashore as a Category 4 storm in August. More than 6,600 Laura evacuees remain in hotels around the state, mainly in New Orleans, because their homes are too heavily damaged to return.
Mexico put the commander of its navy in charge of the federal response. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Tuesday that 5,000 federal troops and emergency personnel were being made available in Quintana Roo to aid in storm efforts.
Juan Carlos Avila arrived at the Technological Institute of Cancun shelter with his seven-months pregnant wife, Joselyn, and their 3-year-old-son, Alexander. He said Tuesday evening the staff had made them comfortable and seemed well prepared.
The family, which lives in Miami, had been in Cancun a week and already went through Tropical Storm Gamma, which soaked the area over the weekend.
“We’ve practically lived in storms during our stay here in Cancun,” Avila said.