CANCUN, Mexico (AP) – Mexicans and stranded tourists, hungry and frustrated after a two-day beating by Hurricane Wilma, stood in line to buy supplies yesterday or simply raided grocery or furniture stores, dragging goods from shops ripped open by the storm.
The hurricane’s steady march toward southern Florida meant an end here to two days of howling winds and torrential rains that shattered windows, peeled away roofing and sent the ocean crashing into hotel lobbies. The sun emerged over Mexico’s sugar-white Caribbean beaches.
But another kind of chaos took over, as police shot into the air to scare looters away from a shopping center, and looters responded by throwing rocks and chucks of concrete.
Downtown, officials feared looters would turn on tourists, so they quickly evacuated more than 30 foreigners from a downtown area overrun by people raiding stores. Military officials and police stood guard outside businesses and set up checkpoints to seize stolen goods.
“It’s chaos,” said fire official Gregorio Vergara. “They are taking things all over the city.”
One group of residents pushed carts against the boarded-up windows of a grocery store in an attempt to break in. At a convenience store, Cancun resident Alex Aguilar took batteries and aspirin.
“The window was broken, so we just went in and got what we wanted,” he said.
Others waited in long lines at the few stores that were open. Some American tourists without local currency offered $100 bills for $5 calling cards.
Meanwhile, military aid convoys rolled into the resort town, handing out bottled water and medical aid. City officials distributed food packages of rice, beans, crackers and cooking oil to people standing in lines that stretched for blocks.
Larry Lowman, of Beaufort, S.C., carried away armloads of emergency supplies for the shelter where he was staying.
“It’s an expedition to bring food for everybody,” he said.
There was little food left on the isolated island of Cozumel, as well, making some people anxious.
“Right now, there is nothing to buy on the island,” resident Daniela Ayala told The Associated Press by telephone. “People are in the streets looking for food, and they are starting to get desperate.”
The storm knocked out many of the island’s docks, making it difficult for navy ships to arrive. State officials were trying to clear airstrips on Cozumel and nearby Isla Mujeres so that planes could land with aid. President Vicente Fox said the government would send helicopters, as well.