NEWS
10/27/2011 12:20 EDT | Updated 12/27/2011 05:12 EST

Canucks living in Cancun staying calm before tropical storm Rina arrives

CANCUN, Mexico - With tourists scrambling to leave the popular Mexican tourist destination of Cancun ahead of tropical storm Rina, Canadians who call the town home were calmly bracing Thursday for what they consider a routine bout of severe weather.

Kelly McLaughlin, a former Toronto resident who now calls Cancun home, said she's weathered more than a few storms on the Yucatan Peninsula.

"We know what we have to do and we just do them. Nobody seems to panic expect perhaps people who are new to the area," McLaughlin said.

"Those of us who have been there, done that, we're trying to keep everybody calm and say, 'Yeah, relax, this isn't going to be anything.'"

McLaughlin, who writes a blog about being a Canuck in Cancun, said she's been contacted by Canadians concerned about friends or family visiting the area.

"Most of the messages have said, 'I was worried until I read your blog, thank you for keeping me updated.' It's nice that I can at least help people calm their anxieties."

Rina was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm Thursday afternoon after many tourists had already cut short their trips to Cancun and other Caribbean resorts ahead of what once threatened to be a Category 3 storm.

"I'm feeling rather calm and, to be quite honest, a little disappointed," McLaughlin said of the storm's fading strength.

"There's been a lot of build-up and it's kind of like hitting at a pinata and not having any candy come out."

McLaughlin said Canucks living in Cancun have prepared for the worst by securing their homes and stocking up on essentials, but so far, "it's business as usual."

The 40-year-old, an eight-year veteran of life in Mexico, said Rina is still expected to bring heavy rain, flooding and high winds. Coastal residents, however, are used to taking on stormy weather.

Tourists, however, saw things differently. While some planned to ride out the storm, many tried to leave before heavy rains and high winds hit.

Toronto resident Paolo Del Nibletto, who was in Cancun to report on a business conference, managed to make his way back to Canada via three flights routed through the U.S.

"We just got lucky," said the 44-year-old Del Nibletto, who got home Thursday. "People were all trying to make plans to get out but the problem was the scarcity of flights."

While most waited in long lines to get seats on outgoing planes, Del Nibletto said at least one weather-wary colleague chose to drive to Mexico City and catch a flight home from there.

Those who chose to remain at his resort were assured the facility was hurricane proof — part of it was even turned into an evacuation centre for local residents — but Del Nibletto didn't want to take any chances.

"I was in Hurricane Andrew in '92 so I didn't really want to stay for anything like that."

Those who waited to board flights at Cancun's airport had to endure long waits and cramped conditions, but Del Nibletto said there wasn't any panic.

"It was a little chaotic," he said. "I think there was more a sense of relief that they weren't going to be part of the hurricane."

Rina was forecast to be near or over Mexico's most popular tourist destinations of Cancun, Cozumel and the Riviera Maya later today or early Friday before curving back out to sea.

Mexico's government said it was sending nearly 2,400 electrical workers plus cranes, vehicles and generators to repair and maintain services as quickly as possible after the storm.

Sunquest Vacations, which runs all inclusive vacations to Cancun from Canada, said its hurricane policy was in effect for the area, meaning customers who cut short their trips after a hurricane watch will receive a travel credit.

The Canadian government had issued a travel warning related to Rina but lifted it by Thursday afternoon once the storm's severity was downgraded.