CELESTUN, Mexico – The Yucatan peninsula's centuries-old Mayan ruins, delicate nature reserves and intricate ecosystems appeared to have survived the devastation of Hurricane Isidore — in some cases faring better than modern structures, which were uprooted, leveled or washed away.
Archaeologists fanned out for emergency inspections of hundreds of Mayan ruins late Tuesday. While their assessments were only preliminary, they were encouraged by what they found, said Carlos Macedonio of the Yucatan state archaeology office.
"We've received radio reports from [the Mayan cities of] Chichen Itza and Uxmal, and there was no damage beyond some trees blown down," Macedonio said.
At the 1,700-year-old Oxkintok ruins, guard Francisco Sanchez said the pyramid and surrounding site had withstood the storm. "They were already ruins," he joked.
After causing flooding in Cuba, the hurricane skirted the Yucatan coast Sunday, then veered inland, ripping roofs from homes, flooding streets, and tossing trees onto the colonial boulevards of the Yucatan capital, Merida.
At least two people were killed across the peninsula, including a security guard who was electrocuted because of flooding at the Merida airport. The storm caused heavy rains across southern Mexico and northern Central America, and an 8-year-old boy was swept away by a swollen river in Mexico's southern state of Chiapas.
Authorities said the storm left 300,000 homeless before drifting back into the Gulf of Mexico, where it headed north and could threatened the U.S. Gulf coast.
Many modern structures didn't hold up as well as the Mayan ruins. Homes with cinderblock walls and sheet-metal roofs were ripped open like tin cans and driving wind crumpled billboards and metal signposts like pieces of aluminum foil.
Residents beginning the cleanup shoveled mud out of their houses and slogged through flooded fields. State authorities restored phone service and electricity and trucked in drinking water and dry clothes to outlying coastal areas that Isidore had cut off from the outside world.
Normally the tiny seaside town of Celestun, on the peninsula's west coast, attracts tourists who want to catch a glimpse of long-legged, magenta flamingos that stand in the waters off the spit of land that separates the town from the water.
The concrete pier where tourists would normally take small boats out for a closer look at the flamingos was underwater and the surrounding parking lot was flooded, but the birds mostly flew to safety and could be seen overhead, looking for new places to nest.
"When the water gets too high, they just fly somewhere else," said Jose Palma, 42, a boat guide in the nature reserve for the past 20 years. "They've gone to find less-deep waters."
Araceli Dominguez, director of Grupo Gena, an environmental organization based in the resort city of Cancun, said most of the plants and animals in nature reserves across the peninsula held up as well as Celestun's flamingos.
"The damage looks bad, but nature has a tremendous power to regenerate," Dominguez said. "Perhaps the worst damage is the hundreds of trees, because these are vital for the cities in this climate."
Others said the storm could actually help the area's ecosystems.
Susana Zapata, the manager of a local ecological hotel, said the storm could bring new species to the area because it had driven many fish to shore. The fish should eventually attract new species of birds who will come to feed on them.
"It's going to transform [the area] because it's a cycle," Zapata said. "It's like a renovation of nature."