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Swiss among Hurricane Wilma evacuees

Tourists leave their hotels in the resort Cancun, Mexico

(Keystone)

Tens of thousands of people – among them dozens of Swiss tourists – were evacuated in Mexico on Thursday ahead of Hurricane Wilma.

The storm, which has been downgraded to Category 4, hit Caribbean coastal resorts on Friday.

Evacuations have been taking place from the hotels in Mexico's holiday resort of Cancun. Among them are around 60 Swiss, said Swiss tour operators on Thursday. The evacuees are taking shelter in school buildings.

Hurricane Wilma has strong winds and its rains were reported on Friday morning to be lashing the beach resort of Cancun.

At least 13 people have been killed so far in the Caribbean by floods and landslides provoked by the storm.

Forecasters say Wilma is expected to touch Mexico's Yucatan peninsula in the next 24 hours, but it is not clear where the hurricane will head next.

Evacuation orders have been given for the region of Cancun, where around 30,000 tourists are staying. Two islands, Isla Mujeres and Holbox, and the Punta Allen lagoon have also been affected.

Security plan

The Swiss tour operator Hotelplan says that it has put a security plan into operation for several tourists in Isla Mujeres.

At another resort, Playa del Carmen, tourists were staying in their hotels, said Switzerland's largest travel group Kuoni on Thursday. TUI has rescheduled tours to avoid Cancun.

In total Kuoni has 100 customers in the affected Riviera Maya region. Hotelplan has 89 and TUI around 125. Travel insurer Elvia estimates that there are around 500 Swiss tourists in the Yucatan region.

On Wednesday Wilma was classed as the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Americas, before being downgraded on Thursday.

Nevertheless, the United States National Hurricane Center has warned that it remains "extremely dangerous".

It would be the second hurricane to hit Cancun and its neighbouring resorts this year, following Hurricane Emily in July.

Forecasters say the hurricane presents a "significant threat" to Florida, which it is expected to hit this weekend. Tourists have already been told to leave the US state.

Cuba has evacuated thousands in the Pinar del Rio province and in eastern areas.

Experts do not expect Wilma to hit the central US coast devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate in Mexico, including dozens of Swiss.
Evacuations have taken place in the hotel region of Cancun, where around 30,000 tourists are staying. Also affected are two islands nearby: Isla Mujeres and Holbox, as well as the Punta Allen lagoon, 100km to the south.
The Swiss travel insurance, Elvia, estimates there are around 500 Swiss in the Yucatan region.

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In brief

Wilma is the twelfth hurricane of the hurricane season in the Atlantic.

Cuba, Mexico and Florida are the areas most at risk from Wilma, say experts.

Central American countries, such as Honduras and Nicaragua, are on the alert over flooding if the storm hits. Landslides after Tropical Storm Stan two weeks ago caused around 2,000 deaths, many in Guatemala.

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