A San Diego couple say they’ve endured “the life or death Amazing Race” to escape Hurricane Odile's massive devastation in Cabo San Lucas this week.
Craig and Jill Newell thought they would be traveling to paradise when they booked their honeymoon vacation to Cabo. But what started as heaven quickly evolved into a hellish landscape when the Category 3 hurricane slammed into Baja California Sunday.
Hurricane Odile, the most powerful storm to strike the Baja California peninsula, knocked out power to more than 239,000 people and left about 30,000 foreign tourists stranded.
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Police stepped up patrolling Wednesday overnight in the resort area after looters stripped many stores of goods and some residents were worried that private homes and condos could be looted next, The Associated Press reported.
The Newells were at dinner Sunday when a hotel employee told them they needed to be escorted back to their room.
They walked through tunnels to avoid the storm above ground, and they sheltered in place inside their constantly shaking hotel, holding a mattress against the window to shield them from flying glass.
By Monday evening, most of the storm had passed, but all utilities went down.
"No ATMS, no credit cards, no Wi-Fi, no cellular, nothing,” Craig, a San Diego firefighter, told NBC 7 in a phone interview Wednesday.
Their resort had a back-up generator and water, but food soon began to run low, and Craig knew they would have to leave as soon as possible.
Setting out Tuesday morning, they were not prepared for the destruction outside their hotel.
"Almost every power pole is crushed; all the services are gone,” said Craig. “We saw a lot of looting which is very sad, the big stores, but people mostly taking food items and water because there was nothing."
People in Cabo helped themselves to food, water, soda and toilet paper at wrecked supermarkets Wednesday, the AP reported. Some also loaded trucks with things like appliances, mattresses and patio furniture.
Long lines formed at tortilla shops and at stores selling ice as people tried to feed themselves and keep what food they had from going bad in the sweltering heat.
Lines also snaked from the couple of gas stations still working. Customers were each limited to 150 pesos' ($11) worth of fuel, about 12 liters (3 gallons).
The Newells' goal was to get to La Paz, a nearly 100-mile trip. They befriended a family who agreed to drive them and another couple three hours to that city’s airport.
Along the way, they saw desperation everywhere.
"People were walking down the street begging for rides,” described Craig. “People were walking for miles with their children through flooded, debris-covered roads.”
When they arrived in La Paz, it was much of the same. The airport had been taken over by the Mexican army and was in chaos, Craig said.
Desperate for any way out, they took a flight to a small town across the Gulf of California called Culiacán on Wednesday.
The improvements were immense. At the calm airport there, they were able to charge their phones and call their families.
NBC 7 talked with the Newells before they caught a plane to Tijuana Wednesday evening, where they could then cross the border into San Diego.
"It's been like the life or death Amazing Race. It's like the real deal. It's not just a game," said Craig.
He said he wants to share his experience with the people at his fire station to encourage them to prepare for a widespread disaster here.
Craig also wants to bring awareness to the plight of those left in the shattered Mexican towns.
"There are so many people down there that are in such trouble,” he said. “I would say thousands of people. They are in a lot of trouble, and they're running out of food and supplies. I don't know what the Mexican government is doing. I'm literally shocked that we as a country aren't doing more.”
President Enrique Pena Nieto's office said the federal government was working closely with state authorities on relief efforts in the areas battered by Odile, including restoring water and electricity.
It predicted 95 percent of electrical service would be restored in the coming days.
Authorities said they had flown 5,000 tourists out of the region by Wednesday afternoon. Government planes were also flying in water and other supplies.