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Readiness pays off as Hurricane Dean passes over Yucatán Peninsula

In Playa del Carmen, curfews and shelters helped residents weather the Category 5 storm.

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On his first day of kindergarten, young Eminem Jimenez went to school as planned. But instead of meeting classmates, he spent the night there with 30 other people, hiding from hurricane Dean.

Everyone had enough food and water as well as bedding – the result of careful planning by local officials here. With memories fresh of the destruction of hurricane Wilma, a Category 5 storm that struck in force just two years ago and caused $3 billion in damage, preparations by the civil-protection agency, the Red Cross, and the Army went into gear well ahead of Dean's arrival. And while the storm was not as forceful as originally anticipated, the advance preparation, as well as communication about taking shelter, helped the city weather the blast, officials say.

"Since the beginning of the year, we've been going around to schools and churches, informing people about hurricanes," says Luis Antonio Morales Ocaña, who works for the municipal civil-protection agency.

According to Mr. Morales, problems arose during Wilma when people became frightened and ran to shelters at the last minute. In addition, local authorities did not foresee the number of people who would need shelter.

This time, the city set up 12 shelters stocked with supplies and hosting a medic. It cleaned the streets of debris to prevent objects from being tossed around by the wind and cleared the drainage system to prevent flooding. Officials also tried to prevent panicked activity before the storm struck at 4 a.m. Tuesday. "People bought food in an orderly way, the stores maintained their normal prices," says Morales, "and businesses agreed to open as soon as possible after the hurricane."

Throughout the stormy night, the governor of Quintana Roo, Félix González Canto, appeared on local television with updates. He called on the people of Quintana Roo to protect themselves and to inform their neighbors, especially those with no access to TV or radio, of the coming storm. A curfew was in effect overnight and was rigidly enforced, unlike during Wilma.

As the Army's 74th Battalion made rounds Tuesday morning, the streets were starting to come to life after a night of heavy sheets of rain and winds that bent palms over. Vegetation littered the ground, but few trees had fallen and there was little visible structural damage to buildings and homes. No deaths were reported.


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