Hurricane Dean Causes Minimal Damage in Mexico despite Storm's High Intensity
With the devastation caused by Hurricane Wilma still fresh on their minds, residents of the Yucatan Peninsula braced for the worst in preparing for Hurricane Dean. When it made landfall, Dean was a Category 5, which was not only was more powerful than Wilma (Category 4) two years ago, but it was also the third-most-intense hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean in recorded history. A hurricane that potent spelled potential disaster. Dean's impact turned out to be much less than anticipated, however, because it made landfall in a sparsely populated area of Quintana Roo and moved at a very fast pace, sparing residents the drenching rains that characterized Wilma.
Even though Dean's damage was less than anticipated, experts at the Servicio Metereologico Mexicano (SMN) say Mexico is not out of the woods yet. SMN forecasters said that four other intense hurricanes of Category 3, 4, or 5 could form before the end of the hurricane season in November. Two of those hurricanes would form in the Atlantic Ocean and two in the Pacific Ocean, according to SMN computer models.
Hurricane misses major cities
Analysts agree that Dean could have created much more havoc in Quintana Roo and Yucatan states had it not skirted large populated areas like Cancun and Merida. In 2005, Wilma inflicted a devastating blow to Cancun, causing the resort city to lose much of its tourism infrastructure, including most of its beaches (see SourceMex, 2005-11-02 and 2005-11-09).
Still, Dean caused property damage to many small communities, including the area where it landed, near Felipe Carrillo Puerto and Othon Blanco, in Quintana Roo state. Early estimates indicated that the storm left about 15,000 families homeless in small villages in Quintana Roo.
"The big challenge is to get quickly to all these villages," Quintana Roo Gov. Felix Gonzalez Canto said in a television interview, "because when the days go by and authorities don't arrive, people begin to get desperate and feel they're not getting the attention they should."
The hurricane caused most of its damage in the interior of the country, even after losing most of its intensity. After hitting Yucatan on Aug. 21, the storm moved briefly into the Gulf of Mexico before re-entering land in Veracruz state and drenching many communities in Hidalgo, Puebla, and Tamaulipas states. Even in those states, Dean hit primarily in communities with relatively low population densities. No deaths were reported immediately in the Yucatan Peninsula, but at least 12 fatalities were reported in the other affected states.
The federal government also breathed a sigh of relief about the less-than-expected damage and promised quick help for the victims of the storm. "Given the fury this hurricane presented, we've come out OK, and we've come out OK because we were prepared," President Felipe Calderon said after a tour of damaged regions. "Now, the challenge is to return to the regions hit by the hurricane to help the families that lost their homes."
Preparations also helped minimize problems
Experts said the preparations before the storm and response in its aftermath also contributed to lessen the impact of Dean. Local and state officials acted more quickly and took warnings more seriously than had been the case with previous storms, including Ivan in 2004 and Wilma in 2005. For example, officials cancelled all flights into Cancun well before the arrival of Dean, in an effort to prevent tourists from arriving at the last minute. Some resort areas and hotels in Quintana Roo were also evacuated even though the arrival of Dean was several days away.
"More than anything else, it's about being prepared," said Jorge Acevedo, a spokesman for Gov. Gonzalez Canto.
Many communities in the Yucatan Peninsula also activated emergency committees that were created for the sole purpose of coordinating a response to the storm.
"Communities are much better prepared than during Hurricanes Ivan or Wilma, which hit the same region," Salvano Briceno, the chief disaster official of the UN, told Reuters. …