After Patricia

2015 December 2015 Living in Mexico Suzanne A. Marshall

By Suzanne A. Marshall from the December 2015 Edition

Two weeks prior to departure for Manzanillo from Canada, we are housed in a rental condo and exhausted from selling our home, furnishings, vehicles and most of our lifelong accumulations. Our ‘Fitbits’ have rewarded us more often than usual as we continue our daily labors with packing, sorting and taking unending steps back and forth, hither and yon. Even the stair climbing has become a ‘tracking’ novelty due to repetition. My husband was tracked one day at 67 flights of stairs going up and down from the second level of our former home.

It isn’t every day that our wrist bands give us the vibrating ‘buzz’ for reaching our daily ‘step objectives’ programmed into the App. So here we are. It’s unbelievable but we feel that we’ve almost accomplished the impossible. As a result we are feeling a little smug and anticipating our flight to paradise in just two weeks. And then we turn on the television to catch the news.

There are hurricane warnings being tracked in the Pacific somewhat south of Mexico and at a distance out to sea from the mainland at this point. But the trajectory of the storm is causing us some discomfort as it forecasts that the eye of the storm will hit landfall somewhere between Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta. Our beloved Manzanillo is in-between. The rest is history as they say. As the days go by Hurricane Patricia has become big news. We’ve heard from family and friends concerned about our returning trip and what we might be facing when we arrive. We assure every one of our complete confidence in the resilience of the Mexican people. Our condos are being boarded up and the staff are taking all precautions. The police and military are evacuating locals and vacationers to shelters and the power is being shut down. But we do wonder if there will be an airport to land at in just over one week. Hurricane Patricia is now the strongest storm of its kind in history.

There are some astonishing facts learned following the storm. Having made landfall at 325 km/h or 200 mph, with unprecedented pressure at 879mbar, the storm ‘miraculously’ hit the coast in between the most highly populated areas. Where tens of thousands of lives were at risk, the final mortality tally is now known to be 8 direct and 5 indirect deaths caused by the storm. When Patricia made landfall it amazingly and thankfully lost a great deal of strength.

“Late on October 23, Patricia made landfall in a significantly weakened state, though still at Category 5 intensity, near Cuixmala, Jalisco. It became only the second Pacific hurricane on record to make landfall at this intensity, after the 1959 Mexico hurricane. Interaction with the mountainous terrain of Mexico induced dramatic weakening, faster than the storm had intensified. Within 24 hours of moving ashore, Patricia degraded into a tropical depression and dissipated soon thereafter late on October 24.” *

We arrive one week later with some trepidation. Having been quite preoccupied with YouTube videos and news coverage before departure, I am fearful of seeing barren landscapes and forests of ‘toothpicks’ instead of the usual swaying palms and banana plantations. However, we see our beautiful, resilient (and obviously flexible) palms intact as well as lush green hills and seascapes. There is of course obvious wind damage to flimsy structures and underbrush but cleanup is well underway and stacks of branches and piles of sand are everywhere. Our relief is immense. Once we arrive at our winter home which is right on the beach, we can see that the pool and gardens have been deluged with sand and sea water and the beach itself now rises to within two feet of the top of our eight foot seawall.

As we settle in, it takes a few more days and talking with the locals to deduce the less obvious damage. While the hills and valleys remain lush and green, much of the soil and sand has shifted from one area to another and streets and floodways still carry the rainfall pouring down from the hills. Imagine 20 inches of rain being dumped onto the terrain. This has washed away many homes and properties. Small towns and villages are busy rebuilding due to the shifted soil and erosion. Some families and farms have lost everything. Along the main highways, various stretches seemed to have been plowed by a grader and banks of sand 3-4 feet tall line the shoulders of the road. In Manzanillo itself, sand is in the streets far from the shoreline. Ten pound rocks can be seen scattered on the roads a block or more from the beaches, brought in with the 9-20 foot surfs. A local business man was telling us that the wind was much stronger above the ground than actually on the ground.

As a result one farming family he knew up in the hills lost all buildings, crops and livestock as the winds stripped their land. Incredibly, some time later someone witnessed a cow walking out of the surf onto the shore, stunned but alive.

No doubt there remain tragic and miraculous stories to be told about Hurricane Patricia. But the most valuable and important thing to give thanks for is the sparing of so many lives. More than a million people live along the coastlines where the storm was destined to hit. Yet only a few lives were lost (though a tragedy for those families all the same). Now life goes on in normal mode; people go to work; children go to school; restaurants are open; and commerce carries on. Rebuilding and repairs are commonplace everywhere.

Yet I sense this palpable, almost spiritual connection among the people who live here and who have experienced this awesome force of nature. They worked together for the common good and took good care of each other.

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