By Gene Kira, Oct. 5, 2001, as published in Western Outdoor News:
"I've never before seen 10,000 Cabo San Lucans working so hard at the same time!" said Tracy Ehrenberg of Pisces Fleet, as she described the city's very rapid recovery from Hurricane Juliette.
Although Juliette's torrential rains cut every highway in Cabo San Lucas and he rest of southern Baja and brought daily life to a standstill from Mulege to the Los Cabos Corridor, frenetic repair efforts brought water, power and telephone services almost back to normal levels within a week, and tourists were beginning to arrive again in all areas. By last weekend all highways were either open or about to open momentarily in the Los Cabos Corridor, East Cape, Todos Santos, La Paz, Loreto, and Mulege. The sun was shining, and people were fishing again.
In Cabo San Lucas at the very southern tip of the state of Baja California Sur, Mexico, the Solmar Suites was expecting a group of 100 anglers, in addition to other guests.
In East Cape, some adventurous new arrivals even waded across knee deep water in order to be picked up by their hotel vans.
In Mulege, Don Johnson was pleased to report that eight rooms were occupied at the Hotel Serenidad, and the traditional pig roast was planned for Saturday night, even though the mud was still being cleared off the runway.
After a long season of "suspiciously quiet" summer weather, Mother Nature made up for lost time last week as Hurricane Juliette delivered a rain-soaked spanking.
In Cabo San Lucas, storm surge and 12-15 foot swells knocked out docks near the entrance of the inner harbor on Friday, and caused other significant damage in the marina. Semi-permanent beach front restaurant shade structures and beach cabanas east of the Hotel Hacienda were also washed away, but major buildings and hotels in Cabo San Lucas were mostly unscathed. Hundreds of people were temporarily evacuated from low lying areas as flooding made some Cabo streets dangerous. There was one confirmed drowning victim due to the storm, William Creson, 45, of Denver, who was reported lost while surfing in 10-foot waves as the storm approached Wednesday. A second unconfirmed fatality was reported in La Paz when a youth attempted to cross a flooded arroyo.
Juliette had begun life as a tropical storm off the coast of Guatemala and had taken a week to grow to hurricane strength and reach Baja California. By Tuesday, wind strength had increased to at least 145 m.p.h. about 200 miles south of Cabo San Lucas. By the time the storm made its closest approach to Cabo San Lucaas on Friday, winds had moderated to about 90 m.p.h., still well above the official 74 m.p.h. threshold for a hurricane.
Western Outdoor News staffer Tom Bette squeezed in a last-minute spate of excellent dorado and tuna fishing off La Paz just before the storm hit. Fishing with Jack Velez' fleet out of the Hotel Los Arcos, Bette said the action off Isla Cerralvo was "incredible" on fish to 25 pounds on Tuesday, and also on Wednesday as the first storm clouds approached the city. By 8 p.m. Wednesday evening, the wind was whipping the surface of the bay, and within minutes the downpour started and there was water lapping over the curbs. On Thursday morning though, Bette's Aero California plane took off without incident during a brief lull in the storm.
"It was a little bumpy for the first five or ten minutes after takeoff," he said, "but after that it was smooth all the way back."
With regards to the recent terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., Bette had nothing but high praise for the airport security measures he experienced in La Paz, noting that during his trip Mexican officials there had done a better job than their U.S. counterparts at Los Angeles International Airport.
Bette said, "In La Paz they opened up every package and suitcase and checked all the carry-on luggage by hand. They had search dogs, and they even opened all the ice chests and took out people's fillets to make sure there was nothing hidden underneath. Overall, the security was actually much better than LAX."
By Thursday afternoon, a communications blackout was engulfing all areas of Baja south of La Paz as power and telephone lines went down, and email servers such as Cabonet, Cabotel, and Balandra went off line. By Friday morning, only satellite phones and ham radios were still operable. The storm stalled for a full day just off the coast at Todos Santos, and it continued to pound the beaches and mountains with torrential, nearly unbroken downpours. In a pattern reminiscent of Hurricane Kiko in 1989 and Hurricane Isis in 1998, Juliette packed some strong winds, but was more marked by very heavy rainfall totals measured by local residents as up to 18 inches in a 36-hour period.
In El Paso, Texas, 50-year-veteran Baja pilot Larry Hahn managed a radio call to Jack and Shirley Bowman at their home next to East Cape's Hotel Palmas de Cortez during the height of the storm on Friday. The Bowmans reported standing water inside the house and winds of 25 to 45 m.p.h. with bursts of 65 to 85 m.p.h. Very heavy rainfall was cutting roads at major arroyos and tearing up power lines. Hahn also relayed a ham radio boat survey taken Friday morning that showed about 20 boats on the beach at La Paz, plus others battened down in harbors from Puerto Escondido near Loreto to Bahia Tortugas on the Pacific Coast. As far north as San Carlos at Bahia Magdalena, winds of up to 60 m.p.h. were being reported.
Axel Valdez of Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort relayed one of the last cell phone calls to make it out of East Cape on Friday morning, saying Gary Graham of Baja On The Fly was safe at his home in La Capilla. All power to the area was off, but some hotels were still operating on generators. Water was turned off. All East Cape boats had been safely pulled on Wednesday and Thursday, and the entire area was shut down for the duration of the storm.
Then, an eerie blanket of silence fell over the southern loop for the next 24 hours. North of the main impact area, reports from downtown La Paz and Hotel Las Arenas were of continued heavy rains through Friday night, but not enough wind to cause major damage. Similar conditions were reported for downtown Loreto and Mulege, and on the mainland side, with Guaymas, Mazatlan and Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo experiencing closed ports and lots of bad weather, but no significant damage.
At the height of the rains on Friday and early Saturday, Juliette was downgraded twice to Tropical Storm status as peak winds hovered above and below the 74 m.p.h. benchmark for hurricanes, and two main storm cells developed, one over the Cortez and another remaining stalled right over the town of Todos Santos, causing what seemed to local residents like interminable rains.
But then, the storm seemed to evaporate as quickly as a soap bubble. By nightfall at about 7 p.m. Saturday, it had weakened and broken up into a large and diffuse system extending from about 100 miles west of Cabo San Lazaro, north up the Sea of Cortez to about Isla Angel de la Guarda, and east as far as Brownsville Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. Late Saturday evening, a residual area of heavy rain passed up the Cortez from about Isla San Jose to as far north as the San Francisquito area. At sunrise Sunday it was still raining near Isla San Lorenzo in the Midriff's storied "Yellowtail Alley," but winds had weakened to about 30 m.p.h. and the storm center was moving slowly northeastwards towards mainland Mexico and the Arizona border.
As southern Baja communications began opening up, local residents assessed the damage and the effects of the storm on a tourist economy already staggering from the effects of last month's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
Telephone calls still could not be placed into Cabo San Lucas or Baja Sur south of La Paz on Sunday, but about mid-morning Saturday, cell phone calls had begun coming out sporadically. About 1 p.m. Saturday, none other than Gary Graham of East Cape's Baja On The Fly popped up for air, saying that the rain had stopped at last, and there were some sunny holes appearing in the cloud cover. Graham said that Jack and Shirley Bowman's airplane hangar next to Hotel Palmas de Cortez had about 6 inches of mud in it, but that otherwise most buildings were relatively intact. (The nearby village of La Ribera suffered significant damage. See following report from Rancho Leonero's John Ireland.)
At the time of his call, Graham said the water at East Cape was in reasonably good shape, with big surf rolling up to about 100 yards out, the water a coffee brown out to about three-quarters of a mile, then a wide green band, then blue out near the horizon. The wind was 10-20 knots, with whitecaps and wind waves, but no big swell. There was a good berm of debris on the beach, but not as bad as Hurricane Isis had left. All arroyos were running strongly, and the power was out for the third straight day. The roads were cut in many places, but he had managed to get an ATV from La Capilla to Rancho Buena Vista earlier in the day.
North of Los Barriles, Graham reported one home washed away in the first wide arroyo, and two others heavily damaged that will probably have to be demolished. The arroyo was still flowing with water, but low enough so that people were walking across it. Graham praised recent improvements to the local infrastructure, saying that the power had hung on much longer than during past storms, and that new concrete culverts and bridges had helped to keep heavy damage to a minimum. He felt that East Cape roads would be fully passable within a short time period. Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort, he noted, had resumed serving meals.
John Ireland of Rancho Leonero also checked in with a relayed satellite phone report from the hotel, saying that the village of La Ribera had suffered heavy damage and loss of buildings in one area, but that overall, East Cape had been extremely lucky. He praised local authorities for setting up emergency generators and bringing emergency supplies to remote areas with helicopters.
"They really did a super job," said Ireland. "We pulled boats on Wednesday and we'll be relaunching today or tomorrow. We've got quite a few guests waiting to come down just as soon as the airport and road reopen. We got about 18 inches of rain, beginning on Thursday and ending Saturday morning. There was very little damage to the hotel itself, although some local roads are cut up right now, especially the La Ribera road and the one to Punta Pescadero. Overall, I just hope the rest of Baja got through it as well as we did."
Throughout Baja Sur, there was a general feeling of relief that Juliette had brought more rain than wind, and the anticipation was that business will return to normal relatively quickly.
Western Outdoor News Editorial Director, Pat McDonell, said there had been only a single, unrelated cancellation for the third annual Tuna Jackpot Tournament scheduled in Cabo San Lucas on November 7-11. The previous years' two tournaments had 111 and 136 teams entered respectively, he said, and with about 100 teams already signed up, this year's event will probably match or even top those numbers, despite last month's terrorist attacks and Hurricane Juliette.
With airline schedules becoming closer to normal and bargain rate fares being offered, it was anticipated that tourism in southern Baja will rebound quickly from one of the worst Septembers on record. The continued strong demand of Americans for Baja travel was demonstrated last week as tourists returned in good numbers to northern destinations such as Bahia de los Angeles where Dr. Abraham Vazquez reported a surprising jump in business during the week.
Airline schedules to Cabo San Lucas and southern Baja from the U.S. were still recovering and changing rapidly at press time, but a survey of available bookings showed at least 45 flights per week from Los Angeles to Los Cabos International Airport, spread among Aero California, Alaska Airlines, Mexicana, United, and American, with America West also flying from Phoenix. Flights were selling out quickly, and round trip fares, including taxes and fees, ranged from about $228 upwards to about $350 depending on seat availability.
An additional minimum of 21 flights per week were available from San Diego on Aeromexico, Delta, and Alaska Airlines, also with round trip fares beginning at about $228.
There were at least ten flights per week from Los Angeles to La Paz on Aero California, Aeromexico, and Delta Airlines, with round trip fares beginning at about $218. Aeromexico and Aero California were also serving La Paz at bargain basement round trip fares of as little as $188 for flights originating in Tijuana.
Loreto now has three flights per week on Aero California with round trip prices beginning at about $229.
Contrary to some earlier reports, all airlines contacted said that fishing knives and other tackle items, including rod cases, pliers, etc., were allowed with checked baggage, although according to the new regulations, they would not be allowed as carry-on items.
(Related Cabo San Lucas articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Cabo San Lucas information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Cabo San Lucas area in "Mexico Fishing News.")