October 22, 2008

Three years ago today...

Hurricane Wilma was taking her first pass at us. It didn't seem so bad at first, a little worse than Emily in July of the same year. But soon, the water started coming in through the frame of my bedroom window, a sliding little door to the outside.
The bedroom was taking on water! Soon the inside of the boarded up house had water in it too.
Since I have a prescription for Valium, to ease the cramping of my multiple sclerosis, I decided to weather the storm sedated. Every time I woke up, I took 5 mg.
The lights were cut off Thursday afternoon. Around the middle of the night, it started. By Sunday, morning it was easing. Later in the day, I took my cell phone to the roof for a look-see and to try to reach my family. I knew if I got a line out, it might be short-lived.
I looked around and called to neighbors in the street. They said they weren't going to work. The water in downtown was chest deep.
I called my brother, who kept trying to ask questions. I said, "Just listen, take notes. When I am done, if there is time, I'll answer questions." I got what I had to say out and we lost contact for days. I lost the coil in the golf cart the day before Wilma and it was down the street at a mechanic's house. He turned out to be a drunk who took money for repairs he never got to.
A merchant from Centro and his son came by, asking if I could take them in while they rebuilt their store. They had just gotten a shipment of Chiapan amber and were concerned for its security. When the lights went out on Thursday, we were automatically in a police state. In the light of day, you could see that everyone - state, federal, local, military, were indistiguishable. All dressed in black. All armed.
The same had happend in Emily and I immediately felt secure. We didn't have the looting and theft that Cancun did.
I had gone to the ATM several times as the storm approached, but the storm packed the ATMS with sand and soon the money would run out. I also had a great stockpile of food and purified water, but was short on potable water since I had a little trouble with the meter going into the storm.
By mid afternoon, there was a knock on the door. The muncipality was delivering a box of food. I said I was fine and they said the docks were out, that is was obligatory that I take it.
There was Maseca, cans of tuna, powdered milk, animal crackers, mayonnaise, several kinds of pasta, sardines, a kilo of sugar, even a little jar of Nescafe.
The next day, I found a cab in the streets and went to see downtown. It was a wreck! The sand on Medina was chest deep. The ATMs were buried.
But everyone was helping everyone. I started assembling a crew to scrape what was left off my compound. I became the first employer in the area and this work would continue into cutting down my cedar, building the fence, painting the house.
I went to the paint store yesterday to pick up paint for the new fencing. The guys reminded me that I was the first, and for a long time after, the only customer they had after Wilma. Jose is struck by the familiarity folks have with me. But I was one of only a handful of gringos on the island and we all stuck out.
I soon ran out of potable water and it seemed everytime I went to the Red Cross, they were already out. Luci and I went to the salina with buckets and scooped up water to flush the toilets with. We loaded it with bleach of course.
In time, my neighbor with the car wash was bringing me water. Oaxaco has a well.
The youths scraped and cleaned. I fixed and fed them two squares a day and sent food home to their mothers. I learned to take Maseca cornmeal and make my own tortillas.
Slowly, the military helicopters began to bring in purified water and some food. I remember at this point, a neighbor killed some chickens and I got my hands on one. I cooked it for the merchants from Centro,but they didn't show up. I decided it was time to steal my golf cart back.
But it couldn't make the two block trip home. I got some kids to push it back and invited them in to take chicken back to their families.
They came in and stood at the counter, eyes wide open. I had arranged a canlelight buffet for my expected house guests. It certainly wasn't what they were used to seeing. I made them load plates of chicken, potatoes and rice. They walked home to familes in disbelief.
It would take a long time to fix the water and sewer pipes, which were mixing in the sea. So, eventually, Corona sent water in beer cans, marked Agua Purificada. We had phone service before electricty. At night, Karina's MiniSuper would take my laptop and cell to charge with tehir generator. In exchange, I'd get some gasoline when I could.
The government decided that of the areas needing rewiring, Cozumel, Cancun and Isla Mujeres, we were "doable," so we got done first. The men came from the electric company all over the county and immediately bought souvernir cowboy hats. I was in Marlboro Country!
The ATMs seemingly took forever, but Western Union was up and running within two weeks. My brother loaned me money to keep the youths working and fed.
Each year since, I over shop for hurricane season. This year, I was exceptional! Oh well. It is all staples. And since the year after, I have owned a generator that I have never had to use. Hopefully, I never will.


Anonymous said...

Amazing story ... Every time I get to Isla, I opine that it's kinda on the edge of civilization, but I guess it never really registers until something like this happens how close to On Your Own it is...


IslaZina said...

But I didn't feel "on your own." I feel the residents and property owners were well cared for, a lot better than Katrina victims in New Orleans, for sure. The government cared for us and we cared for each other. It was the biggest team I have ever seen.

scottozoid said...

A great story Zina! And there is a lesson here for all...while it is important to remember the tragedy, it is more important to remember the triumph of the recovery and how that makes everyone stronger and it is most important to remember how the most trying of circumstances bring people together. Celebrate the strength today!