By Tony Parra
A group of Eastern New Mexico University students who traveled to the southern tip of Mexico were unharmed after Hurricane Emily blew through the area on Monday and hit southern Texas and northeastern Mexico on Wednesday.
The eye of the storm ran ashore just before dawn near San Fernando, Mexico, about 85 miles south of Brownsville, with 125 mph sustained wind. The National Hurricane Center said hurricane-force wind did not extend all the way to the lower Rio Grande Valley, and by late morning the sustained wind speed toward the storm’s center was down to 105 mph.
The ENMU students came to Merida, located in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, early this month and are scheduled to spend the month there. Many tourists were being evacuated from the resorts in Cancun.
“We were in the path of the hurricane but it didn’t hit hard here (in Merida),” Mary Ayala, assistant dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ENMU said via e-mail on Wednesday.
It was good news to Chris Tebo’s ears. Tebo, an ENMU student, answered a phone call at the Ayala residence and said he is a friend of the Ayalas. He said Mary and her husband, Pastor Ayala, traveled together to the Yucatan Peninsula.
“I was worried it (hurricane) could destroy lives and buildings,” Tebo said. “It’s good to hear everyone is OK.”
Tebo said the last time he saw Mary Ayala was on July 5.
At 9 a.m. (MDT), the storm was centered inland of Mexico’s northeast coast, about 75 miles south-southwest of Brownsville. It was moving west at 10 mph.
A hurricane warning was dropped but a tropical storm warning was in effect for about 40 miles of the lower Texas coast from the Mexico border to Port Mansfield. Flood and tornado watches were posted for most of South Texas through midday.
Ayala is guiding the students during their visit to Merida as they learn about the Mayan Culture, visit temples and learn about the history of Mexico. The summer immersion program in the Yucatan Peninsula is conducted each year as part of the student’s university experience.
Students gain fluency in Spanish, earn up to six college credits, and experience life, culture, and customs through the Merida program.
Hurricane Emily weakened as it journeyed through the Yucatan Peninsula but picked up steam once it began traveling into the Gulf of Mexico and toward the Mexican and Texas borders. Despite the hurricane hitting the Yucatan Peninsula on Monday, students will continue their travel plans.
“This weekend we will be traveling through places where it did substantial damage,” Ayala, who is also professor of modern languages, said through the e-mail.
The students stay with local Mexican host families, visit Mayan ruins, tour museums, historic sites, explore authentic market places and enjoy musical concerts, theater and cultural events.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.