Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Remembering Wilma

October 21, 2005, the fear, the anxiety, the knowledge that something big and bad was about to happen to Cancun was setting in. We had known for a few days that a hurricane was headed our way and we had been warned that it was going to be a big one. No one knew just how bad Miss Wilma was actually going to be.

On Thursday October 20 at 4:00 in the afternoon the government had turned off all the electricity in anticipation of the storm. Tourists had been evacuated to temporary shelters and the grocery stores were running out of supplies. We had stocked up as much as we could, mostly stuff for Max as he was only six months old, diapers, Gerber, etc.. With no electricity we had lost our contact with the outside world, no computer, no phone, just occasional text messages from a fellow Cancun resident who happened to be in Minnesota and was keeping us updated as to what was going on. We had a sleepless, though fairly peaceful night weather wise.

Friday October 21st we really started to feel the storm. The winds picked up, the rain started and we bunkered down to prepare for the worst. Wilma made landfall in Cozumel on that Friday afternoon, but we didn't know that until much later. Friday night was a nightmare, I don't even know if words can express the fear, the nerves, the feeling of impending doom. We had set up a downstairs room as "home base", the room with the fewest windows and the most protected from the wind. The rest of the house was at Wilma's mercy. The feeling in the air was electric, the lowest pressure ever was recorded during Wilma and you could feel it in your ears. The sound of the storm was like a train or a 747 passing within inches of the house, a constant roar. The water was pouring in through the windows, we had a river of water running through the whole house, nothing we did could stop the water from coming in. We spent the night mopping as best we could and keeping Max asleep and calm. Every few minutes we would hear shattering glass and run upstairs to check on the house. With no lights, it was frightening, we couldn't see outside or in, we were trying to preserve the batteries and candles as we had no idea how long we would be without electricity. An absolutely sleepless night of terror.

With the light of dawn on Saturday we could start to see some of the damage Wilma had already brought. The apartment building next door was a disaster, every single window broken, gas tanks thrown across the lawn, tinacos in odd places. Most of the trees were down and so were the power lines. The rain and wind were still fierce so we didn't dare set foot outside. Sometime around mid day things calmed down and we saw people on the streets outside and we took turns venturing out to talk to the neighbours. I recall a woman in a yellow slicker running through the neighbourhood informing us all that this was just the eye of the storm, that it was coming back in the opposite direction and that we should not rest easy, more was on the way. We had maybe a half hour or hour of a respite from the worst of the winds and then it picked up again. Spinning the other way.

For another 24 hours we were basement bound again, with wind and water coming in different windows and continuing to soak us. We ate sparingly and drank only enough water to sustain us. At this point we knew that things were really, really bad. We talked about what was next, would we have a home at the end of this? Would we have jobs? What was happening to our friends? What was happening to the hotel zone? How many people have been hurt? I cannot even begin to explain just how many things we had to be anxious about besides the immediate safety of our family, it was as if our whole world was about to be turned upside down.

When Sunday dawned and things started to clear, we were in a state of shock. We took turns going outside for walks around to see the destruction and to talk to the police and rescue crews. No one knew anything. We heard that the hotel zone was totally blocked with water, no one could get in to even check out the lay of the land. The neighbours started to pull together to try to set things right, everyone helping out with the clearing of trees and debris from the streets and from our yards.

Monday came and Hubby said he needed to go to work. "What??? You can't go to work, there might not even be any work to go to!". He made the attempt anyway (such a Type A personality) but was turned back around again as no one was allowed to enter the hotel zone (he worked at a resort at the time). By this time our cel phones had lost all their batteries and we were seriously incomunicado. I found a pay phone that worked and managed to convince an operator to connect me to the family and it was a great relief to speak with them. I don't think I could have possibly expressed to them what was really going on, I just told them that we were fine, not hurt, the house was wet though intact and the baby was A OK.

Tuesday Hubby again tried to go to work and this time he succeeded. His description of the destruction was unbelievable, pictures and words cannot even begin to describe. He was put to work cleaning out the pool and helping housekeeping start to get water out of the rooms (a bit different than his graphic design position, but he dug in and put his back into it with all his gusto). I stayed home in the heat and humidity and tried to entertain myself and keep a six month old sweaty baby happy.

In the following weeks, we came to rely on our friends and neighbours and our relationships with them strengthened greatly (thanks for the animal crackers My Guey!). Hubby went back to work and luckily was never laid off. I was out of work for a couple of months while they fixed the damage to the school. It was a tough time. We went 21 days without water or electricity, we learned a lot about how to live without. We were smelly and bored, but we were alive and well.

Many people theorize that Cancunenses suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for some time after the event, and I must agree with that theory. Depression, anger, relationship problems and at times euphoria were common among most everyone we knew. The emotional strain of such a catastrophic event may have been worse than the structural damage to the town. We were all put to the test and for the most part we passed. I know the hurricane changed me, it made me a better person, a stronger person, one more patient and tolerant and able to deal with any situation. I feel that after Wilma, I can face anything that life throws at me.

I don't have any of my own pictures to share, but I found this video on youtube yesterday. I cried like a baby watching it. I still get chills and a little bit melancholy when I think about Wilma and seeing this video brought it all back. It's hard to watch (man that music gets me!) but it will give you just a glimpse of what happened in Cancun.

This is another video that I have watched many times since Wilma. The famous Coco Bongo night club created this piece and played it at their grand re-opening and for many months after. It's inspiring, positive and reveals the great human effort that was put forth to rebuild Cancun after being hit by one of the most powerful hurricanes ever.

I know this was long and I don't even feel as though I fully expressed all that I wanted to about Wilma. This was one of the most significant events in my life, how could one blog post say it all?? I still have strong feelings about it, residual anxiety, pride in our community and in our family, melancholy for all that was destroyed and the for the lost innocence of our city, sadness over the destruction of the beaches and for all the families who lived in severe circumstances for many, many months afterwards. I will forever remember Wilma, the good, the bad and the ugly, I've got a story to tell my grandkids from my rocking chair.


Mimi said...

A/C off - check
Goose bumps still 7'' off body -check

That's it, no matter the romantic lure of experiencing a hurricane is ..... No way NO HOW! Not after reading this.

You may not think you fully expressed it, but honey, those of us who know and love you and yours ... Trust me we read between the lines! OMG!
I'm so glad we didn't know you then I wouldn't have survived the worry!
Hugs Mi

Brice said...

Glad you made it through, Darlin!
Those are the experiences that make a life.

My Way said...

It's crazy because at the various points of time in your blog, I remember what I was doing or what I was going through.

It was a fucking nightmare. Thank you for being there. I wouldn't have made it without you. I mean that.

For me Wilma was bad, but the worst was the other hurricane going on in my life.

Lordy. What a rush of emotions. I must still have post traumatic stress disorder to this day because I don't think I'm over it.

My Way said...

Oh, and there is no way in hell I'm watching those videos. Don't feel like crying right now.

Maybe later. lol.

K.W. Michigan said...

My God you could not have said it better .. I have tears running down my face. I was in a shelter downtown, it was actually a school. We were transported there on Thursday evening and returned to our timeshare on Monday morning. The sound was unbearable. And the rain and wind .. I will never forget Wilma. I do appreciate electric and water! I'm sure we could share stories! (one day)

Anonymous said...

You made me feel like I was there with you. I am so glad that you and your family survived Wilma. It just gave me the chills reading your post.

Islagringo said...

I thought about posting on Wilma today also. She affected our lives so much. Luckily, we were the last car on the last ferry off the island that Wednesday night. I will never forget the terror that blew through me when I thought we were not going to get off the island in time. I wrote about the whole ordeal and aftermath in detail on my other blog. Like you, even though I had many more chapters than youto tell the story, I still feel that I never expressed what we went through adequately enough. Let's hope in was a once in a lifetime experience.

Anonymous said...

I remember we had a trip planned to go to Cancun in March after Wilma came, and we were glued to the tv set about the hurricane. I could not believe what all we were seeing, let alone being there while it happened. It is wonderful that you and so many people survived, and you can see a bright side from going thru that.

We did go to Cancun in April of 2006, wondering what we would see, and we fell in love with Cancun all the more. We had gone two times before, but this trip we heard different stories from the people who worked in the stores and restaurants, and saw how great that the people could get that place back together again. We have been back a total of 4 times since Wilma, and are coming back again in March of 2009. Cancun has a special place in my heart.

Amy in MN

1st Mate said...

You brought home to me more than anyone who has written about living through a hurricane what it's really like. So far we've been lucky, they have skimmed by us but I always keep in mind that next time we could be right in the path. I hope I'll be as brave as you were.

Fned said...

My goodness Canucka, what a powerful post.

(Thankfully?)I've never experienced something as powerful as Wilma. But I do remember how it felt during the 1999 earthquake that left Puebla pretty shaken up. I remember feeling so incredibly small and powerless while the floor was moving and objects were flying off shelves and tables... you could almost believe that in those 10 seconds Mother Earth was reminding you how insignificant we are.


CancunCanuck said...

To all, thank you, I re-read the post and I still feel like there is so much more to say about the event. A collection of short stories if not a novel!

My Way, your friendship was one of the best things to come out of Wilma, thank you so much for being there with us.

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