Hurricane Odile strands tourists, sparks looting in Mexico

View of damaged aircrafts at the international airport of San Jose del Cabo, on Sept 15, 2014 after hurricane Odile knocked down trees and power lines in Mexico's Baja California peninsula. -- PHOTO: AFP
View of damaged aircrafts at the international airport of San Jose del Cabo, on Sept 15, 2014 after hurricane Odile knocked down trees and power lines in Mexico's Baja California peninsula. -- PHOTO: AFP

CABO SAN LUCAS (AFP) - Hurricane Odile destroyed homes and shut down airports in Mexico's Baja California peninsula on Monday, sparking looting, marooning thousands of foreign tourists and injuring 135 people.

The powerful storm caused heavy material damage in Los Cabos resort towns and hotels were badly flooded, but nobody was killed and the hurt were treated for only minor injuries such as cuts.

Hundreds of looters ransacked supermarkets and electronic stores, snatching rice, water, toilet paper, alcohol, televisions, and fans after the passage of the hurricane, which later weakened as it moved north.

More than 1,000 troops were deployed to the disaster area, which was without electricity and running water. Scores of wood-plank and tin-roof homes were leveled in one neighbourhood.

"I'm taking water for the children and food for the baby. You never know what can happen tomorrow," Osvaldo Lopez, 41, said as he left a convenience store.

Some 24,000 foreigners and 6,000 Mexican beachgoers were looking at a second night in hotels that served as temporary shelters.

Authorities scrambled to reopen the international airports in Los Cabos and La Paz in order to send military planes to airlift the tourists.

But National Civil Protection coordinator Luis Felipe Puente said the first planes would only leave Tuesday because of the damage caused by strong winds at the terminals.

"We don't have optimal conditions to begin flights in the next few hours," he told a news conference, adding that sick tourists and the elderly would be airlifted first.

The hurricane smashed hotel windows, flooded rooms and sent palm trees flying into swimming pools.

"I'm disappointed about my vacation, but above all my heart aches for the people from here who lost everything," said Tifani Brown, a 34-year-old American tourist who had only arrived Sunday - the day the hurricane hit - from California.

"It's one thing to see hurricanes on TV. It's another to live them," she said.

Some tourists said they spent the night at the Los Cabos airport's luggage room after flights were cancelled on Sunday. They were now looking at a night in a hotel near the airport.

"When the hurricane hit, the light went out in the airport, windows shattered, the ceiling fell and some computers exploded," said Mariana Perez, a 26-year-old Mexican engineer, showing a video of it on her phone.

Odile crashed ashore as a category three hurricane in the five-scale Saffir-Simpson scale, packing winds of 205km an hour.

It weakened to category one on Monday as winds slowed to 120km an hour and was expected to be downgraded to a tropical storm soon, the US National Hurricane Centre said.

While 11,000 local residents took refuge in schools and other temporary shelters, some braved the storm in their humble houses.

Soledad Mayo, 52, sent four of her children to a neighbour's home while she stayed in her wooden house with her husband.

"We spent the night standing there, waiting to see what would be left of our house. But look, it took everything," she said, surrounded by rubble.

The hurricane hit the Pacific coast around the one-year anniversary of a twin tropical storm battering on both coasts that left 157 people dead.