Mexico's civil defence department says strong winds whipped Cancun, one of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations, causing major destruction with no immediate reports of deaths.
Hurricane Delta has slammed into Mexico's Caribbean coast, toppling trees, ripping down power lines and lashing a string of major beach resorts with winds of up to 175 kilometres per hour.
A weakened Delta hit the Yucatan Peninsula near the town of Puerto Morelos as a Category 2 storm, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said, bringing a "life-threatening storm surge."
But the region appeared to have escaped major destruction and there were no immediate reports of deaths, according to Mexico's civil defence department.
Strong winds whipped Cancun, one of the country's most popular tourist destinations, where a number of cars were damaged by falling trees, according to AFP reporters in the city.
Thousands of tourists had hunkered down in emergency shelters along the Riviera Maya coastline as the storm approached.
The hurricane was downgraded from "extremely dangerous" Category 4 as it neared the peninsula, but could return to the second-highest status on Thursday as it moves over the Gulf of Mexico, the Miami-based NHC said.
Here are the latest storm surge forecast values for the area of the Gulf Coast expected to be affected by Hurricane #Delta. The storm is expected to grow in size as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico, increasing the threat for life-threatening surge. pic.twitter.com/xOn8QA3zrl— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) October 7, 2020
Half of Cancun without power
Carlos Joaquin, the governor of Quintana Roo state, which is home to Cancun, said that many trees had been toppled and electricity lines were torn down.
Around half of the city was without power, much less than expected, he said.
By nightfall Tuesday, Cancun's streets were mostly empty, the shops closed and windows covered by wooden sheets or crossed with adhesive tape to try to prevent them from shattering, according to AFP reporters.
"Although we've been living in Cancun for five years, it's our first hurricane, and the truth is that we're very nervous," said Ana Gabriela Gaeta.
More than 40,000 tourists in Cancun and neighbouring resorts were evacuated, the head of the area's hotel association, Roberto Citron, told AFP.
Most were Mexicans, but they also included foreigners, notably from the United States.
In Cancun alone, more than 160 shelters were set up.
The authorities said the emergency shelters had been sanitized to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 81,000 people in Mexico and led to a sharp drop in visitor numbers.
"To prevent the spread of Covid-19, the same measures have been taken in the shelters as in hotels, such as the use of gel and face masks," said Cintron.
Maria Alexandra Gonzalez, a 34-year-old tourist from Costa Rica, boarded a bus with a large suitcase and a hat that she never used due to the relentless rain.
"We've not had much sun. It's a pity. We haven't been able to go out to see other places," she said.
Soldiers wearing masks and face shields were seen preparing to deploy for relief efforts.
The Cancun and Cozumel airports were ordered to close, and non-essential activities in the state of Quintana Roo were suspended.
People living in the area stocked up on food, drinking water and wooden boards to protect their homes as the storm approached.
"We're rushing to get wood for the windows. We only learned this morning that the hurricane was coming here," said Laura Mendez, a 54-year-old in Cancun.
Fishermen hauled their boats ashore to prevent them being swept away.
Delta is forecast to bring heavy rainfall and floods to parts of the southeastern United States later this week, according to the NHC.
Delta is the 26th named storm of an unusually active Atlantic hurricane season.
Over the weekend, six people died and thousands were forced from their homes as Tropical Storm Gamma triggered floods and landslides in southeastern Mexico.
In September, meteorologists were forced to break out the Greek alphabet to name Atlantic storms for only the second time ever, after the 2020 hurricane season blew through their usual list, ending on Tropical Storm Wilfred.