CANCUN, Mexico--Mexicans formed long lines at supermarkets near Cancun on Tuesday to stock up in preparation for a forecast hit overnight from powerful Hurricane Delta, while the resort ordered hotels evacuated on its famed Caribbean shoreline.
The Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity was about 215 miles (345 km) east of Cozumel off the Mexican coast, packing maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour (220 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
"In the Yucatan Peninsula, potentially catastrophic hurricane conditions are expected in portions of the warning area late tonight and early Wednesday," the NHC said.
Expectations of tropical storm conditions led to evacuations of coastal areas in Cuba. Delta is forecast to weaken and linger over Mexico's Yucatan peninsula before strengthening again in the Gulf of Mexico, where oil companies were bracing for impact on their installations and ports closed.
Officials ordered evacuations of Cancun's hotel zone and other coastal areas, and opened the city's convention center as a shelter. Workers at the Avis car rental firm boarded up windows with wood under a light rain on Tuesday afternoon.
The governor of Quintana Roo state urged residents near the shore to evacuate, while recommending health precautions in shelters due to the coronavirus pandemic. "We have to prevent COVID in these sites, we have to take all preventative measures to this effect," Governor Carlos Joaquin said, noting that the hurricane could take 12 hours to pass through the state after touching down by 2 a.m.
Joaquin recommended households stock up on food and water for two or three days, anticipating delays in restoring water and electricity. A hurricane watch was in place for an area stretching from the beach town of Tulum, west past Cancun, and including Cozumel, an island made famous by Jacques Cousteau for the quality of its reef scuba diving.
Since Monday, local residents have formed long lines at supermarkets and construction stores to load up on food and supplies to protect their homes, television images showed. "Panic buying" left some shelves empty of basic pantry goods, said Marian Castro, who lives in Cancun's hotel zone and recalls the destruction wrought by Category 5 Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
"I'm not scared, because after Hurricane Wilma ... destroyed my house, this time we're more prepared," she said, pointing out her anti-cyclone windows.