02 November 2005

Cozumel update: Oregon divers in a bind in Mexico

When about two dozen Salem-area scuba divers woke up Wednesday morning, days after being stranded by Hurricane Wilma on the Mexican island of Cozumel, they had no food or water.

They had foraged to no avail for supplies the night before after the hotel staff told them how bleak the situation had become.

Later Wednesday, their desperation eased a little when a market opened and they were able to buy a rationed amount of food and water, said family members and friends who have been communicating with the group using cell phones.

Still, the owners of Scuba Outfitters and 23 of their clients remain stuck in a foreign country with little food and drinking water. They are making do with running water for two hours per day, limited power from a generator and the hope that they can get off the small island Saturday, the day for which they have airline tickets.

"They want to get out. They're so desperate," said Sheila Oleman, an employee of Scuba Outfitters, which is owned by John and Kaare Merrill.

The Merrills arrived in Cozumel on Oct. 15 with their clients for what started as a weeklong scuba-diving adventure at Scuba Club Cozumel.

Hurricane Wilma pounded the Yucatan Peninsula from Friday morning until dawn Sunday with torrential rain and howling winds.

The group members opted to stay in their hotel rather than get separated in different shelters.

Despite the difficulties, the staff at the hotel has been kind to its foreign guests, said Ann Primbs, the mother of traveler Donna Greenlee.

Two of the divers were more fortunate than most. Mike and Julie Snook of Salem managed to get tickets on another airplane, possibly at great personal expense.

They got on a flight Wednesday, Julie Snook's mother, Diane Ehlers, said shortly before the couple were due to land in Houston.

"I feel like I'm going to sleep for the first time in a week," Ehlers said. "I can't sleep at all. Julie is my baby. It was awful."

The divers remaining in Cozumel had received no visit from Mexican officials or U.S. consular employees in Mexico as of Wednesday afternoon, Oleman said.

The U.S. State Department is working with the Mexican government and the airlines to help Americans get out of Mexico, said Chris Matthews, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore.

"We're in touch with the State Department on it and trying to maintain vigilance," Matthews said.

About 4,700 Americans left Mexico for the United States on Tuesday and Wednesday, the State Department said.

An estimated 650 remained in shelters and hotels on Cozumel, and several thousand remained in Cancun and Merida.

A Royal Carribean cruise ship that is delivering supplies will be available to carry all remaining Americans from Cozumel to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., today.

The local group had heard rumors of the cruise ship, but for now, Oleman said, they planned to stand in line today and will try to get on a plane.

"Their spirits are really, really down," Oleman said. "But they're all trying to hang in as a group."

Source: StatemansJournal.com


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