Hurricane Delta rapidly intensified into a dangerous Category 4 storm with 145 mph (230 kph) winds Tuesday while following a course to hammer southeastern Mexico and then continue on to the U.S. Gulf Coast later in the week.
The worst of the immediate impact was expected along the resort-studded northeastern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where hurricane conditions were expected Tuesday night and landfall early Wednesday.
From Tulum to Cancun, tourism-dependent communities still soaked by the remnants of Tropical Storm Gamma could bear the brunt of the storm.
In Cancun Tuesday, long lines stretched at supermarkets, lumber yards and gas stations as residents scrambled for provisions under mostly sunny skies. Officials warned that residents should have several days of water and food on hand. Boat owners lined up at public ramps to pull their boats out of the water.
Mexico began evacuating tourists and residents from coastal areas along its Riviera Maya Tuesday. Quintana Roo Gov. Carlos Joaquin said that buses were carrying people off Holbox Island and hotels in Cancun and Puerto Morelos were busing their guests inland to government shelters.
Some hotels that had exemptions because their structures were rated for major hurricanes were preparing to shelter their guests in place and testing their emergency systems.
When the alarm blared at the Fiesta Americana Condesa hotel, Lizeth Elena Garza Hernandez, 35, rushed out of her room carrying in her arms her 10-month-old daughter, Hannah Cienfuegos. She had arrived Sunday from Reynosa, Tamaulipas with her husband, 4-year-old daughter and her parents-in-law.
“I’m scared because we don’t know how it could impact here, because we’ve never been in a situation like it,” she said.
Joseph Potts, a deputy sheriff from Denver, Colorado, took care of his 3-year-old son near a kiddie pool while his wife attended an emergency information session about the hurricane. The hotel offered to shelter guests at a ballroom inside the hotel, but a short time later after the storm intensified the hotel told them they would all be moved to a university in Cancun.
“The hurricane kind of popped up overnight and we just want to get it over with and go back to the ocean,” Potts said.
The official definition of rapid intensification of a hurricane is 35 mph in 24 hours. Delta has increased in strength 80 mph, more than doubling from a 60 mph storm at 2 pm EDT Monday to 140 mph at 2 pm EDT Tuesday.
Cancun Mayor Mara Lezama Espinosa said that the city had opened more shelters than usual to give people more space in recognition of the COVID-19 pandemic.
State Tourism Minister Marisol Vanegas said there were currently 40,900 tourists in all of Quintana Roo. That number is a fraction of what it would normally be due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The area’s economy was devastated by months of pandemic-caused lockdown.
Delta’s center late Tuesday afternoon was about 215 miles (345 kilometers) east-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, and it was moving west-northwest at 17 mph (28 kmh).
Once it moves on from Mexico, it’s expected to regain Category 4 status over the Gulf as it approaches the U.S. coast, where landfall around Friday would be followed by heavy rainfall across the southeastern United States.