Friday, October 21, 2011

Hurricane Wilma Revisited

Oct. 21/22, 2005, Hurricane Wilma struck Cancun, parking on top of us and delivering a battering ram of destruction. Every year at this time, anyone who survived Wilma looks back and remembers, the fear, the sounds, the smells....friends and I know that we suffered PTSD and the anniversary brings back a sense of anxiety, a profound feeling that is difficult to describe. This year, I asked some friends to share their thoughts, here's what they had to say.....

"My strongest memories of Hurricane Wilma are not during the three days we were holed up bailing water and listening to that horrible wind, but of the tenacity of the human spirit in the days, weeks and months afterward. Hard to believe it's been six years."- Joyce

"Our front door blew in and the wind picked me up and threw me into the living room. The kitchen cabinet doors, coffee machine and toaster landed on top of me. Then, as the windows blew out, I watched one of our cats, the big black guy Pepe, sail over my head and out the window. We fought the wind for the entire night, finally getting the front door nailed into its frame as the eye came over and the wind eased. We were able to tarp the windows the next day. Three days later,while I was prowling the garden looking for him, Pepe appeared out of thin air (as cats do), head-bumped my leg, and life was good......The guest bedroom had all kinds of Ritz Carlton artifacts blown in including Do Not Disturb door knob signs, towels, etc. We were in Florida, not paying attention and flew back the day before. Too late to buy plywood. Anticiclonicas were on the schedule, but not yet installed. Only our bedroom survived and that's where we lived with a mommy cat and her litter surviving on PB&J and bottled water we "salvaged" from the street for the week until the windows were replaced. I know it sounds odd, but it was one of the best times of our lives."- Mel

"We had moved to Mexico about six weeks before getting the first warning about Wilma. We spent the day boarding up the hotel and getting guests out of town on the last flights. We wrapped files, records and computers in plastic and moved them to the second floor rooms. Then we walked through the nearly deserted streets of Playa hoping that Wilma's path would change enough to miss us. We heard someone say that Wilma was projected to come over Cozumel and make landfall. We looked out over the sea at the island of Cozumel directly in front of us. "Shit" we both said at the same time. Welcome to Mexico."--Tony

I can only say that 2005 took me years to get over. Mentally debilitating especially after having been thru Emily"- Kay

"One of the things that I remember the most, after being terrified, was the aftermath. I had only been in Mexico for a short time and thought, OMG they will never get this fixed. It was amazing how they opened up the public phones and allowed everyone to call anywhere in the world for free! You only had 3 minutes for the calls but you could tell your family you were alive and safe. I thought that was a wonderful testimonial for Mexico. The way the people pulled together and shared food and drink was something I will never forget!"- Teresa

"We had just moved to Mexico in August, only to have Wilma hit in October. We have lots of stories of our experiences from that time, but one thing we remember so clearly is seeing how quickly and efficiently Mexico and the Riviera Maya handled cleanup and assistance after the storm. It was especially interesting to watch since less than three months earlier the entire world watched the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans and saw how badly that was handled. Mexico, a developing nation, handled this crisis about a million times better than the US handled its. We were very impressed with our newly adopted country."- Cheri

"As the news came in we would get our fair share of the hurricane, I started preparing the house for the worst case scenario - my husband took the last flight out of Cancun to attend a job elsewhere, so I was left alone, with the confidence that everything would be fine.On Thursday evening, as the rain started to pour down, and the wind speed picked up, I got in touch with my neighbors and they agreed to come over to my place to sit this one out.... however, by the time they realized it was really serious, their entire yard was flooded and the weather was so awful they never made it over to my place. There I was, about to go through the darkest 72 hours of my existence, alone with a 6 week old puppy to keep me busy.

I saw the wood paneling fly away from my living room window so I started picking up every piece of furniture I could lift ans shoved it all into my kitchen and then I ran upstairs to my bathroom to seek refuge to what turned out to be my worst nightmare. As the storm picked up speed on Friday, the dome on my roof "left the building" and with a huge gap in my roof, the pressure mad 2 windows in the living room downstairs implode so now Wilma literally entered the house. I pulled a mattress into my bathroom and went to sleep, exhausted after fighting the water and wind for hours on end, hoping that it would all be only a bad dream. 

When I woke up several hours later the Eye of Wilma was sitting above us and all was calm, that is when it hit me.. the brick fence around my house was missing... the walls had come down entirely and they were laying below a good meter of water in the yard. the entire first floor was flooded, glass was everywhere, it was a huge disaster zone and we still had half a hurricane to go.. so I just gave up... went back upstairs to read a book and wait it out.

on Sunday morning, all of a sudden all was calm... the sun was shining.... no more clouds or rain, but the sight of the neighborhood was one of destruction, dead trees, devastation and sadness.  I waded through the water towards my neighbors' house, and met several other neighbors on my way over, we all gathered, hugged and informed about the damages we all sustained to our homes. We sat down and prepared lunch, chatted, had a laugh and started planning to help each other out... we agreed on gathering in on particular neighbor's house that had next to no damage, so we could all shower, take a break and have a good meal.the solidarity among us was pulled us through.  

2 days later, my best friend finally got through to my house and the first thing she did was slap me in the face.... they had no clue for 4 days if I was ok... I had no way of letting them know... I promised myself, never to stay alone again during a hurricane, and learned that the material stuff does not matter... I did however have to learn this the hard way."--Severine

Hurricane Wilma is by far the MOST intense experience I have ever had. Today I am feeling the pangs, the twist in the gut, the sadness but most of all the pride in Cancun for surviving, rebuilding and thriving after such devastation. Thanks to all my friends for sharing their thoughts, think of this as a little bit of group therapy if you will. If you have your own experiences to share, please leave a comment, I 'd love to hear from you.

1 comment:

KfromMichigan said...

We shall never forget Wilma! The most intense storm of all time. Pictures just don't show the devastation. Sheltered in a school somewhere in the middle of downtown Cancun, we were up all night bailing water from our school room. Using a bucket as a potty! And eating lots of tuna fish & crackers! It was an experience to remember, but I'm glad to experience it in Cancun. After the storm, we all pitched in to help clean up our great resort now called the Royal Cancun (Club International .. the Royal Resorts). I was back in Cancun 5 months after Wilma, what a comeback. The place was beautiful again! We visited the school room. Brought the kids some school supplies and we all cried. It was a very touching moment. My heart is always in Cancun.

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