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Mexico Begins Post-Wilma Relief Efforts

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

On Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, Wilma caused millions of dollars in damage, stranded tens of thousands of tourists and reportedly killed seven people. In the hard-hit resort town of Cancun, there are long lines for water and food, as truckloads of army and police try to pass flooded roads to restore security. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has spoken to some people who have just left the hardest-hit areas and some who are trying to get into them.

Officer ROBERTO ROSIQUE(ph): (Spanish spoken)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:

Police Officer Roberto Rosique has been on the job for three straight days, and he's still not able to give people any good news.

Officer ROSIQUE: (Spanish spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: `The main highway into Cancun is flooded,' he says, `in a five-mile segment, and only large trucks are able to get through for now.'

It's a blow for the dozens of people waiting to reach the city on this stretch of road. Didio Fernandez(ph) is a high school science teacher who's trying to find out what happened to his sister.

Mr. DIDIO FERNANDEZ (Teacher): We can't talk with her. We are worried. And (Spanish spoken) we are taking (Spanish spoken) eggs and some food. We can pass to Cancun.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Carlos Acocera(ph) is an ophthalmologist. His car is also packed to the roof with provisions to take in.

Mr. CARLOS ACOCERA (Ophthalmologist): The water came into the clinic, and I have machines and everything and electronic equipment, and it's gone. Everything is gone.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says he's spoken to relatives, and they say Cancun is in chaos.

Mr. ACOCERA: The problem is right now there is no food. There's a lot of robbery going on, a lot of vandalism. That's what we're trying to go back to, take water and food to friends and try to help. But it's pretty bad, the situation, and it will be bad for many months, I think.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The first of the US resorts have announced that they will be closed for the lucrative winter season. Ninety percent of the hotels in Mexico's busiest tourist city, Cancun, have been damaged, according to officials. For those tourists who rode out Wilma, getting as far away from the Mayan Rivera was the goal.

Unidentified Man #1: Could I get my bag up there, please?

Unidentified Man #2: It's wet.

Unidentified Man #1: OK.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: British visitors streamed off the first large buses to escape the area. At a rest stop on the highway inland, the first place they've seen since Cancun, they crowded a food stand hungry, scared and exhausted.

Unidentified Woman: Two waters, please. Two waters.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Darren Warboli(ph) was traveling with his fiancee and a party of 26, including his two small children, his mother and his prospective parents-in-law. The couple had decided to tie the knot in Cancun, but Wilma intervened. Warboli said the storm hasn't made him superstitious, though.

Mr. DARREN WARBOLI (Tourist): We were told time after time after time that we were in the eye of the storm and then we weren't. And we just didn't know when it was going to end.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: His fiancee's mother is Olga Maddich(ph).

Ms. OLGA MADDICH (Tourist): It was scary, yeah. Just nice to come out. And the Mexicans--it was just so good to help us through all this. You know, without them, we probably wouldn't be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Yucatan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.