John Downgraded to Tropical Depression

The remnants of Hurricane John made a soggy march up the Baja California peninsula Sunday, soaking fishing villages and retirement communities and threatening flooding in parts of the U.S. Southwest.

The storm was downgraded to a tropical depression late Sunday but was still dumping rain on the normally arid Baja. State officials said as much as 20 inches had fallen in isolated areas, and forecasters said John was threatening to cause deadly flash floods.

It was also expected to dump up to 3 inches of rain in desert areas from Southern California to west Texas in the next few days and could cause some flooding, said meteorologist Eric Blake of the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

John was a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 110 mph when it hit the southern tip of the peninsula late Friday. But officials reported no deaths and little destruction, though some shantytown shacks were blown down.

President Vicente Fox visited Los Cabos on Sunday and walked through a hurricane-battered neighborhood in La Paz, a city of more than 150,000 among the hardest hit. The president viewed concrete homes whose tin roofs had been ripped off.

"Fortunately there is no human loss and the impact is relatively modest," Fox said as he pledged to help residents whose homes had been affected.

A total of 160 houses in the area lost their roofs and four houses collapsed, officials said. About 1,155 people remained in government shelters. Mexico's health secretary was sending in officials to protect the state against dengue and other water-born diseases.

The storm initially was forecast to slam into the resort area of Los Cabos and move westward out to sea. But Blake said a high-pressure ridge was weaker than expected and that allowed the storm to keep traveling north up the peninsula.

Wearing a broad rimmed, straw hat, Fox walked through Vista Hermosa, a poor La Paz neighborhood clinging to the mountains over looking the fashionable downtown of this fishing town-turned-resort.

The storm's maximum sustained winds dropped to about 35 mph and it was located about 30 miles southwest of the ancient mining town of Santa Rosalia on Sunday after slogging past Loreto, which is being developed as a resort aimed at U.S. visitors and retirees.

It was moving northwest up the spine of the narrow peninsula at about 7 mph and was expected to weaken further as it remains over land most of the day. Forecasters said it was likely to move out to sea well south of the border city of Tijuana later this week.

People experienced John's passage over Los Cabos — home to the tourist resorts of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo — depending largely on whether they were visitors taking shelter in marble-lobbied hotels or local residents who build and staff them.

"They had an open bar and a little DJ come in," recounted Tim Anderson, a highway administration employee from Alamosa, Colorado, who waited out the hurricane in a hotel in San Jose del Cabo.

But Ruben Moreno, 32, a bricklayer, defied evacuation orders and spent Friday night huddled in his shack made of tarpaper, tin and plastic tarps in one of Cabo San Lucas' shantytowns.

"The wind came through hard, early in the morning," Moreno said. Nearby, a stream of water had coursed through the camp, piling mud and sand in its wake. At least two of his neighbors' jury-rigged, wood-frame shacks had collapsed, leaving a mix of plastic sheeting, tarpaper and blankets in the sand.

Los Cabos Mayor Luis Armando Diaz said homes had been damaged and a highway cut off farther along the coast where the storm hit, between his city and La Paz. In one of those towns, Los Barriles, residents reached by telephone told local radio stations that tin roofs had been ripped from homes.

The airport serving Los Cabos reopened Saturday after remaining closed for nearly three days. Lines of tourists formed to catch flights out of the still largely shuttered beach towns, their vacations spoiled.

In La Paz, the sun shone brightly Sunday afternoon as crew busily worked to restore electricity and phone service and remove fallen electric poles in city, still covered in a veil of sand and grit. Residents dragged trees from their yards and bulldozers cleared debris from roads.

While visiting, Fox greeted Francisca Maldonado, a housewife from the badly damaged Vista Hermosa neighborhood where houses were filled with dirt and debris, and many were left without roofs.

"He told us he's going to help us repair our houses," she said.

Meanwhile, tropical depression Kristy strengthened again Sunday into a tropical storm but was churning out in the Pacific far from land, the hurricane center said. The forecast called for Kristy to lose steam over the next few days as it moves over cooler waters.