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Florida Recovers From Wilma

Florida Recovers From Wilma

While Florida struggles with the largest power outage in the state’s history, $10 billion in damages is expected to result.

Either we’ve seen it in the news, or we heard it roaring outside our homes earlier this week, but everyone knows about it. Hurricane Wilma plowed through southern Florida leaving a big mess behind.

An estimated 2.5 million homes are without power in the state of Florida today, as rescue workers and cleanup crews go about their business. In regard to what is described as the worst power outage in Florida history, it could take a month to restore electricity. Widespread power outages plus the usual assortment of telecommunications foul-ups make it hard to find out about damages to specific resort areas. In this instance, the affected area was so broad that a huge number of resort properties took at least minimal damage. I’ll try to summarize what I know at this time.

– The Florida keys have flooded, and the Overseas Highway has been rendered impassable in at least two places. Key West International Airport is shut down due to flooding. Concern was voiced yesterday over damaged docking facilities which could hamper rescue efforts. About 90% of Keys residents stayed in their homes during hurricane Wilma. Consequently, right now there’s a lot of people without power, refrigeration, or clean water (a water main broke because of the storm). The Keys are reportedly experiencing the worst flooding in years. We’re waiting to hear more from the Keys, but I don’t expect good news.

-Though flooding in the streets was as deep as five feet in some places, Naples survived the storm more intact than previous estimates allowed for. Flooding from the storm surge is receeding, and Naples expects to be back in business by the end of this week. Marco Island survived better than expected, though 3,000 homes had their roofs damaged. The Radisson Suite Beach Resort on Marco Island also sustained some roof damage, and it will reopen once it has been repaired. The Ritz-Carlton at Naples expects to reopen at 12 PM on Friday, October 28, and is only waiting for additonal clean-up and power restoration. As for other hotels in the area, The Registry Resort & Club also expects to be open for business later this week.

-Wilma’s winds grew stronger as she passed over Florida’s East Coast, and this is where some of the worst damage occured. High-rise buildings in Miami lost their windows, and the storm lobbed pieces of asphalt into parked cars. 98% of homes and businesses in Miami-Dade and Broward counties remain without power. This in turn complicates the assessment of damages; most resorts are waiting until the power is back on before they investigate damages. What we do know is that Fort Lauderdale hasn’t been hit this hard by a hurricane since 1950, and that structural damage to resort properties is likely.

-Many airports in southern Florida are not operating. However, Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers is open, and flights should resume today. MIA and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airports are unsure whether or not they will be able to reopen today.

Regardless of what you read here today, remember that online information and third-hand news reports can be faulty. If you’re worried about your specific timeshare or other vacation property, contact your resort ASAP. Unless you weathered Wilma in your timeshare (we’d love to hear stories if anyone has done this) you won’t know the extent of the damages until you ask. Due diligence, coupled with an equal measure of assertiveness, has saved many a timeshare owner from nasty surprises.

More on Florida as more information becomes available.

Mexico’s Riviera Maya in Ruins

Mexico’s Riviera Maya in Ruins

Flooding, power outages, and looting continue to plague Mexico’s Yucatan resort towns.

An estimated 10,000 tourists are trying to make their way home safely following the aftermath of hurricane Wilma. Most of these tourists have spent the past three days stranded in humid, crowded shelters with few amenities, eating nothing but crackers and canned tuna. Cancun’s airport remains closed until Wednesday, so vacationers are desperately trying to reach Merida, where the nearest airport is located. Inevitably, this journey will be complicated by roads which either remain submerged under several feet of water or are still impassable because of storm debris.

“The level of destruction is without precedent” said Felix Gonzalez, Governor of Mexico’s easternmost state, Quintana Roo.

Over the weekend, 30-foot waves pounded Cancun’s oceanfront hotels and businesses. Some reports indicate that most of these were submerged up to their third stories. The hurricane’s storm surge caused widespread coastal flooding, cutting off many beach resorts from the mainland. Wilma has caused extensive beach erosion along the coast, exposing bare limestone in many locations.

After the hurricane moved on, much of the Yucatan peninsula was left without water, electricity, and other essentials. Rioting and looting soon followed, and most storefronts were stripped bare of merchandise.

It is known that most of Cancun’s resort hotels were damaged severely, but little information is available. 

Marriott issued a release earlier, stating that the three Marriott-owned properties in and around Cancun would be closed due to damages, not reopening until next year. The full text of this release can be found here. Starwood Hotels and Resorts acknowledged Sunday that their two hotels in Cancun would be closed for business, but Starwood seemed to indicate that the full scope of the damages was still unknown.

Both of these hotel chains stand to reap insurance benefits, so most agree that the cost of repairs in the wake of this disaster should be offset. However, most folks who own timeshares in this part of the world are probably wondering whether they will have to pay special assessments or other fees on properties that could remain unuseable for several months at the very least. 

For those affected by this hurricane, we extend our hopes, prayers, and best wishes. 

Wilma Pounds Riviera Maya

Wilma Pounds Riviera Maya

Thousands of tourists are taking shelter as hurricane Wilma, downgraded to category 4, brings high winds and rain to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.

At the time of this writing, hurricane Wilma is moving toward landfall on the Yucatan peninsula, bringing high winds and driving rain to Mexico’s Riviera Maya. The storm’s center is slowly moving past Cozumel, which has been lashed by rains and 145 mile-per-hour winds for much of today. Because this storm is moving so slowly, flooding is deemed likely in certain areas.

Thousands of tourists stranded in Cozumel by this storm have settled into makeshift shelters in auditoriums and other large buildings. Conditions in most shelters are uncomfortable, often described as cramped, hot and humid.  

Though huddling in a sweltering gymnasium with a hurricane raging outside is undoubtedly a frightening experience, previous category 4 storms have left surprisingly little impact along the Riviera Maya. Earlier this year, hurricane Emily scored a direct hit on Cozumel, but minimal damage was reported, though several resorts had to close briefly for repairs. Power lines and street signs were torn down or uprooted, yet Cozumel’s basic services more or less normalized within a week, thanks to cleanup efforts. Many tourists who experienced Emily firsthand credit the local Mexican authorities with responding well to the situation.

Wilma is scheduled to hit southern Florida over the weekend, and forecasts predict that Wilma will weaken to a category 2 storm by this time. Though this may come as a relief to some storm-watchers, authorities in the Florida Keys are taking no chances. Mandatory evacuations are in effect across the Keys and the rest of Florida is preparing for Wilma’s arrival.

At this time, no resort hotels in Cozumel have posted any hurricane-related information online. Timeshare owners are encouraged to contact their resorts directly at the next available opportunity.

Hurricane Wilma Strengthens in Caribbean

Hurricane Wilma Strengthens in Caribbean

2005 now ties with 1933 for the year with most storms in a single season.

Another powerful storm threatens the Caribbean, this time a category 5 hurricane of record-breaking intensity.

Hurricane Wilma is currently moving towards Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula at an estimated speed of seven miles per hour. Wilma has already caused deaths in Jamaica and Haiti, mostly due to mudslides. Hurricane warnings are currently in effect along the easternmost tip of the Yucatan. The Cayman Islands are undergoing preparations for this storm, and a number of events have already been canceled in anticipation of hurricane conditions.

Meanwhile, in the Florida Keys, evacuations are already under way. As hurricane conditions may complicate travel by road (the Keys are connected by a series of long bridges spanning the waters of the Gulf of Mexico), many tourists are being asked to leave before the situation has an opportunity to turn for the worse. More information on the Florida Keys can be found here.

Despite the startling intensity of hurricane Wilma and the strong likelihood of landfall on US soil, news of this latest hurricane has sparked mixed reactions. Whereas a strong contingent is preparing for the worst, some seem to feel that mainstream media outlets have over-hyped the situation. This article from the BBC may give some insight.

Regardless of opinion, most people would agree that it is important to follow the latest news of this storm and to make preparations accordingly. As hurricanes can often change course, there is fear that Wilma could potentially hit the already-devastated areas of the US Gulf Coast. Regardless of where Wilma eventually turns up, the potential outcome could be disastrous.

National Hurricane Center Public Advisory on Hurricane Wilma