Expats defend paradise in hurricane-hit Mexico

Expats defend paradise in hurricane-hit Mexico
People loot a supermarket in San Jose del Cabo, on September 15, 2014 after hurricane Odile knocked down trees and power lines in Mexico's Baja California peninsula.

CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico - Armed with nothing more than an air horn and walkie-talkie, US retiree Antonio Lucero helps fellow expats protect their piece of paradise from thieves after Hurricane Odile crushed Mexico's Los Cabos beach resorts.

Lucero is among thousands of foreigners, mostly Americans and some Canadians, who have made the sun-soaked southern tip of Baja California peninsula their home, while luxury hotels greet a steady stream of tourists from north of the border.

But Odile brought chaos to idyllic beaches, knocking out power, destroying wooden homes in poorer neighborhoods and sparking a wave of looting in shops when it tore across the region last week.

Fearing their homes would be the next target of looters, residents took security into their own hands, even though the federal government deployed 8,000 security forces to restore order and the initial looting subsided.

"I don't feel threatened, but I feel vulnerable," Lucero told AFP as the bespectacled and mild-mannered American took his turn patrolling the street with a neighbour.

They feel nervous because the powerful storm blew out the doors and windows of their homes, while disruptions to phone services make it impossible to call the police.

Lucero's neighborhood, where most residents are Americans, is not enclosed. It has no security guard or fence.

Residents park sport-utility vehicles at the entrance of the neighborhood to block access to strangers. The neighborhood watchmen write down the information of visitors.

Neighbors alert each other of any theft by honking their horns three times. Some people guard the street with machetes or sticks.

"Firearms are not permitted in Mexico, so how can you protect yourself?" said Lucero, a native of the US state of Colorado.

Russell Klaesson, a 47-year-old yacht technician from California, led the plan to defend the enclave of 200 people.

"We are not out to attack, we are just here trying to defend ourselves," said Klaesson, who carries a large knife in a leather sheath hanging on his belt.

"We will do it until the community decides we don't need to do it anymore."

More than 5,000 foreigners, 85 per cent of them Americans and many retirees, live in Los Cabos, a municipality of 238,000 people, according to the state tourism department.

The storm turned vacations into nightmares for the 30,000 tourists who became stranded after Odile wrecked local airports, damaged roads and broke a bridge.

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