Outbreak brings 'apocalyptic' city to a standstill

Passengers arriving from Mexico City at McCarran International Airport on Monday night described one of the world's largest cities as a panic-stricken metropolis brought to a standstill by the swine flu outbreak.

"It seemed very apocalyptic," said Shannon McDuff, a Houston resident who spent two days on business in Mexico City.

McDuff, who was passing through Las Vegas, arrived at the airport with a face mask around her neck. She said most people wore masks everywhere they went. In her time south of the border, McDuff said she did not see anyone eating in public because that would mean removing their masks.

Rosalva Lopez, 34, arrived at McCarran with her brother, Carlos Lopez, 19. They kept their masks on even as they passed by U.S. Customs agents, who also wore masks and gloves.

The Mexico City residents said they came to Las Vegas to escape the fear gripping their hometown.

Rosalva Lopez, who spoke in Spanish, said Mexico City is virtually dead, with people opting to stay inside their homes rather than venture out in public.

With about 20 million residents, Mexico City is one of the world's most populous metropolitan areas.

Rosalva Lopez said schools there have been closed until May 6. She said that movie theaters are closed also and that there are virtually no people in the public plazas.

Another passenger said sporting events such as soccer games and car races have been canceled.

Rosalva Lopez said police and military officials are handing out masks for free to those who do venture outdoors.

She described the scene as surreal.

"It's very strange," she said. "Nothing like this has ever been seen in Mexico."

Rosalva Lopez and her brother said they have been washing their hands excessively to avoid becoming sick. They also are following news updates closely.

McDuff said she did not go anywhere without her mask while in Mexico and took a lot of vitamin C. The Lopezes and McDuff said they did not know anyone who has the illness.

Alberto Ladron De Guevara, 23, spent five days in the Las Vegas Valley. He headed home to Mexico City on Monday night and said he was not too concerned with swine flu.

He viewed the illness as an inconvenience because of the daily precautions he will have to take, such as wearing a mask in public.

Ladron De Guevara said he is hoping swine flu will not put a damper on his love life, explaining that he is eager to kiss his girlfriend.

"If I can't do that," he said, "it's going to be a problem."

Contact reporter Antonio Planas at aplanas@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638.