Mexico Braces for Category 5 Monster

Local tourism officials in Cancun say that they expect of have flown out 75,000 American tourists over a period of three days ending tomorrow, ahead of the expected arrival of Hurricane Dean on Tuesday.

The airport has been hectic for the past two days, and some passengers without confirmed reservations had to sleep in the airport Saturday night. But the airlines are flying in empty planes to add additional flights home, and they say they are confident that everyone who wants to leave will get out by Monday.

The airport is expected to be closed down by late afternoon Monday, and will not reopen until the storm has passed.

In Cancun, supermarkets were running out of fresh produce as people lined up to buy supplies. Everywhere, there was the sound of hammering as workers put up boards over windows to protect against storm damage.

They were even pulling out lamp posts along major highways and wrapping the lights in plastic, both to stop them from being blown over onto the roads by the expected high winds and to protect the lights themselves from damage.

Major hotels all have evacuation plans -- most are either advising their guests to fly home or, for those who want to stay and ride out the storm, the hotels are organizing shuttle buses for Monday to take people to shelters inland.

There have also been a number of mandatory evacuation orders for people living in exposed areas along the coastline.

"It is better to overdo the precautions than underdo them," said Gabriela Rodriguez Galvez, the state tourism minister. "That is one lesson we learned from Hurricane Wilma."

Wilma hit Cancun in October 2005 and left some $2 billion in damage. Since then, Cancun has moved to strengthen hotels and other structures, and has streamlined cooperation between the governor's office, the mayor, the police and other emergency services to deal with hurricane emergencies.

Out in the Gulf of Mexico, where there is no protection whatsoever from high winds and waves, the government is evacuating 13,000 oil workers from oil rigs. It is expected to have at least some impact on Mexico's overall oil production.