They Have Hurricanes Here?

Before we moved to Playa I checked on the internet because something in the back of my mind told me this area periodically got hurricanes blowing through. Sure enough, major hurricanes hit this area about once every three to five years, and guess what? The Riviera Maya was overdue. Well we were not going to cancel our life plans because of a little hurricane threat were we? So we came anyway.

Guess what? The day we moved into our first rental home here (we had been in Playa all of two weeks at that point) the neighbors started dropping by to welcome us to the neighborhood and let us know that, by the way, a hurricane was scheduled to hit about 5:00 that evening and do we know what to do? What? I believe that was my dazed and somewhat incredulous response.

First, board up all windows or at least tape them. Ugh! The entire front of our house is large glass windows facing into the courtyard and it is too late to be buying plywood. We don’t even have any curtains to help catch the glass if a window breaks!

Next, fill the bathtubs with water for when the water supply is cut off. Turned out we have no plugs in two of our bathtubs and with the third the water drained anyway!

Next, stock up on drinking water, canned/non-perishable goods to eat, candles and flashlights. That was easy, turns out the challenge comes for about two–three weeks after the hurricane. That is when there is no food left on the shelves as the trucks have not been able to get in on the roads to replenish bare shelves.

Next, bring in anything from outside that may get blown about from the wind and could smash through your window, or possibly your neighbor’s window. We were fine with that; we had no stuff for outside. But what about our neighbor’s outside table and chairs; should we offer to move them for him?

We were also told where to go for shelter in our area in case of emergency. I made the kids each pack a bag with necessities in case we had to evacuate quickly. Then I stopped unpacking, as what was the use of putting out our stuff if the windows were going to be smashed and everything was going to be blown out of our house anyway?

We ended up getting the tail end of that hurricane. It hit Merida (about a 3½-hour drive from us) and the surrounding area quite badly. We did experience several days of wind like I have never seen or heard before and had a huge tree banging on our house all day and all night because of it. The water went out and we used pool water, several trees in the yard broke, and the electricity was out for a day or two. All in all not bad, we and the house and the town survived that one pretty well, thank you.

It was the next one called Emily that hit us almost three years later, once we owned our own house that I thought was the real deal. The kids and I were in Canada at my mother’s house when we heard of hurricane Emily approaching straight for Playa. That meant Shawn had to weather it on his own, so the following is his description and his experience.

He started weather-proofing at our real estate office by getting any computer parts off the floor (in case of flooding), unplugging everything electric, turning off all the breakers and boarding up the large front windows. He finished his sealed masterpiece by painting ‘gone surfing’ on the boards covering the front window. That turned out to be a huge tension breaker for many people walking along Fifth Ave., as passerby’s stopped to laugh and take pictures. For days, the locals and tourists had been feeling the strain of the impending direct hit by the hurricane.

Back on the home front: by this time there were no boards left in town for our windows, so he storm-proofed the house and yard as well as possible and then sat and listened to six hours of howling wind before the storm even arrived. TV, videos and stereos were not an option as by this time the city had shut off all power. Once the storm hit there was little sleep as the wind was causing large windows to now bulge inward with the pressure, and the heavy, large wooden door that never opened chose now to open and would not stay closed. Every piece of furniture was now needed for bracing the windows and doors. Meanwhile you could hear the sound of tin roofs peeling up and flying through the air.

Upon waking the next morning after a little sleep, Shawn says he found a new neighborhood. Our beautiful garden was a mess with huge palm trees actually uprooted. Trees we used to love had had their leaves shredded and the miniscule pieces were now jammed into every available crevice, such as car and door frames.

Taking a walk around town at 6:00 a.m. he found workers already out making repairs. Thanks to airport efficiency, Shawn was actually able to join us in Canada a day later, leaving our garden repairs in our capable gardener’s hands. However, remember him putting the computers up in case of flooding? Turned out water came in through the air conditioner and ruined his keyboard anyway!
Now for the real, real deal. Turns out those other hurricanes were only preliminaries for the really big one. Only three months after hurricane Emily, we got Hurricane Wilma, weighing in at a Category 4! That’s pretty bad, you say? Yeah, now make her last 36 hours over Playa and it is like never-going-to-end drama.

Honestly, I do not know how to really describe the sights, sounds and feelings of going through a hurricane of that magnitude. The following e-mail helped me put some of it into words to try to put the tension, and stress, and fear of it behind me.