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Published: January 11th 2015
Storms a coming
The mother of all storms hit Los Cabos this year. A category 4.
It was horrific.
I was on the other side of the continent when hurricane Odile landed and I felt helpless as I received play-by-play posts from family, friends, and the media, until the cell phone towers toppled and Cabo was cut off from the world.
Like anyone who regularly visits this region, we all have the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) updates on our phone handy. Because every June through November about ten named storms form in the seas around Costa Rica and head straight for the tip of the Baja. Some make landfall, some divert left or right.
It's just a part of life. (Insert your own views on global warming and storm intensification here)
This particular season had been a fairly busy, yet oddly subdued. So, when the reports of hurricane Odile formed, no one batted an eye. Classified as a category 1, she slowly meandered up the coast with a predicted outcome of turning left and going out into the Pacific, headed for Hawai'i.
As usual, regular precautions of stocking up with water/food for a day or two,
Agua por favor
Distributing water is essential in the first few days
and securing things you don't want blown around, were conducted by some but other than that, life doesn't change much for a Category 1.
Then, without warning Odile organized herself into Category 3 and turned northeast, barreling directly towards the Baja.
There was no time to react. By nightfall she hit Los Cabos with full force ferocity of a Category 4. Chaos ensued. All the glass in buildings and parked vehicles were sucked out, missiles of debris rocketed in every direction. Sand blasted the air, no doubt making it impossible to see. Sea storm surged inland with some swells over twenty feet high. Everything toppled as their sandy foundations gave way. I'm told the sound of the storm was like a freight train careening off its tracks. To add insult to injury, Odile spawned several tornadoes that took care of anything that hadn't been ripped off its foundation. Twelve hours later, Los Cabos looked like a scene out of Apocalypse now. Napalmed.
As the sun cast an eerie orange hue upon the cloudy dawn, the locals began to dig out from where they hid not really grasping the very scope of their situation.
Shock is an
interesting coping mechanism for those faced with this kind of devastation. It doesn't allow you to process information correctly, you forget to eat or sleep, and you start doing aimless things that don't have any necessity for your dire situation, like picking up puzzle pieces strewn around where your living room used to be. This is sort of what everyone did.
But within twenty-four hours, humanity began to break down. The realization that there were no emergency services, no police, no electricity, no phones, no help coming, made everyone go into a major panic.
Crowds began to form around the grocery stores, seeking water and food.
The store owners offered their perishables to those that gathered. Might as well, after all there was no refrigeration in the stifling heat. But this act of kindness soon turned to looting. Anything that could be taken out of the stores was snatched up and carried away.
Even the local police officers were caught on video loading TV's and appliances into the back of their patrol trucks.
There were rumours going around that gangs of tattooed men were robbing the more affluent neighbourhoods, kicking in doors, and stealing what
The Big Odile
The storm hit directly on Los Cabos
ever they could carry off. Communities formed patrolling vigilante groups in order to patrol and protect their families trying to protect their businesses and properties.
Those reading this who are probably thinking, ah that would never happen where I live.
Well think again. People go absolutely mad when faced with a third day without water, food, or shelter.
(Insert your own views on emergency preparedness and how it will never happen to me syndrome here)
Now, the tourists, they fell into their typical entitlement rage. But, they also were becoming extremely panicky the day after. Unfortunately Odile was so severe and her damage so bad, that staff just left (more than likely to see if their family members were still alive) and the tourists were left to fend for themselves. Little or no information was available in the days after, ex pats and tourists somehow made their way out to the trashed airport in an attempt to leave. After standing on the tarmac at a trashed airport for over ten hours in 30 degree temperatures with no water or food or shade, many were able to secure a jump seat on military evacuation flights to Mexico City.
The mariachis at the airport welcoming the first flights back to cabo
They were hysterical but they got out. Granted, the hotel contingency plans had outright failed. Usually, the resort staff stay on to ensure the safety of guests while they ride out a storm. They also distribute food and water, make sure generators are working, provide emergency first aid and guide guests to stairwells or banquet rooms should their suites become hazardous.
At least the tourists could go somewhere else.
The poor locals left behind had no other option but to fend for themselves. It was a rough few weeks before the Mexican government finally sent in proper help. No one really knows how many died. The government refuses to issue this information. To be honest, it will be impossible to ever know, as many lived illegally in the dangerous flood zones.
I arrived in Los Cabos after the airport was reopened. Although my plane was greeted by an enthusiastic mariachi band and hundreds of airport workers clapping and cheering as we disembarked from the ramp, I was speechless at what I saw. My beloved Los Cabos was flattened and eerily quiet.
The federal police aka federalies were brought in to patrol the streets and keep order.
This shot went viral showing how everyone lends a hand in the recovery
Truckloads of men in balaclavas and automatic weapons offer an intimidating reassurance.
Meanwhile, the local police officers were relegated to traffic control as a humiliation for their looting of the stores. Angry citizens drive by and spit in their direction and make barking noises (basically calling them dogs) for abandoning their sworn duties. Those ones who's face was captured on camera looting the stores were instantly fired.
Reconnecting with my friends who lived through this terrifying experience, I noticed right away many displayed the signs of PTSD, breaking down as they relived their individual accounts. We were lucky, after all, most of the loss we experienced was cosmetic. So many others had lost everything. While I jumped back into my volunteer gig, I experienced the mild inconveniences of going without running water for days, rolling brownouts, price gouging, and thefts of gasoline and battery from my car. No big deal, as my main worry was disease and sickness outbreaks. As expected the hospitals were inundated, but managed well. More positive signs emerged as medical and food distribution trailers began to set up shop in the poorer neighbourhoods, while waves of construction workers began arriving in droves.
Welcome, now fuck off
Vigil antes had to step in to stop the looting
that lost the most helped others. A photograph that went viral of a young woman who was sweeping the roadway while precariously balancing on a walker because she was missing a leg. That’s the thing about the Mexican spirit…you just get on with it. No time to complain. You get up, dust yourself off and carry on. And that is admirable.
I sometimes struggle with the extreme wealth and extreme poverty that coexist here.
Maybe because I remember it as a sleepy little fishing hamlet which has now become a Mecca for the rich, famous, and those that want to emulate that lifestyle. But, see that’s the thing. Money talks in Mexico. (Insert your own views on government corruption and how this world really works)
Let's face it, Los Cabos tourism brings millions of dollars annually, so getting it back up and running immediately is top priority. The Mexican government sent over 5,600 electricians, gigantic generator trailers, and all their power trucks by ferry. The CFE crews worked day and night in some really horrific conditions to get the electricity going for the multi million dollar resorts, anyone living outside the tourist zones not so lucky, but
Shock and awe
Where do you start?
they too finally got power.
As a strange backlash, there was a huge employment boom within a month in Los Cabos, and work with good wages was available to anyone wanting it. Many worked twenty hour shifts like a badge. Grocery stores and gas stations were replenished, and Los Cabos started to crawl out from under a huge pile of sand. I highly doubt this would have gone as well in other cities.
The resilient people of Los Cabos rebounded. Their frantic pace to restore this town back to its original condition before tourist season started was humbling.
If you look close enough, there is always a silver lining. #unstoppable Los Cabos
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