Hurricane Grace struck Mexico’s Caribbean coast just south of the ancient Mayan temples of Tulum early Thursday, pushing a dangerous storm surge. Heavy rain and strong winds threatened to destroy flimsier homes and keep tourists off white sand beaches until it crosses the Yucatan Peninsula.
The Category 1 storm had already, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands en route to a direct hit on the Riviera Maya, the heart of Mexico’s tourism industry. Grace’s center struck just south of Tulum at 5:45 a.m. EDT with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. Earlier, it was moving west at 17 mph.
Quintana Roo state opened shelters and evacuated some hotels and residents ahead of the storm’s arrival. Grace missed the popular cruise ship destination Cozumel and came ashore south of Playa del Carmen, where the downtown, usually thumping with music and clubgoers, was eerily desolate Wednesday night. Authorities had ordered all businesses closed and people inside by 8 p.m.
With little to stand in its way on the peninsula, Grace was expected to weaken slightly then regain hurricane strength in the Gulf of Mexico before making a second landfall in Mexico later this week.
Quintana Roo Gov. Carlos Joaquin said authorities had evacuated hotels that weren’t made to withstand hurricanes and he called a halt to alcohol sales in the region at 5 p.m. Some airlines cancelled flights to the peninsula.
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, and businesses taped and boarded up windows as lines formed at grocery stores with families stocking up on essentials.
Some tourists fretted over a lost day at the beach while others prepared for their first hurricane experience.
Up the coast in Cancun, fishermen dragged their boats away from the water’s edge in preparation.
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.