Sheltered from the Storm

By Jeanine Lee Kitchel

Cancun won the lottery this past Tuesday, or at the very least, its equivalent. It narrowly escaped the jaws of one of the top five category 5 hurricanes on record. Hurricane Dean is up there in the annals of the world’s greatest storms.

Although it hit 40 miles north of Quintana Roo’s capitol, Chetumal, on the Belize border, according to local newspaper accounts in Por Esto, it did little damage to the city’s infrastructure. But the brunt of Dean was felt in Majahual which was “pulverized” according to local news. Newspaper photos showed nothing higher than ankle-height with the exception of a decrepit lighthouse. I’ve yet to hear what happened to the little pueblo of Xcalak.

Majahual gets more press because of the large cruise dock, Puerto Costa Maya, which brought in over one million visitors last year. Photos showed it separated in pieces, and I’m sure cruises will be diverted for some time to come. But tourism here on the Riviera Maya coast is of utmost importance, and the government is addressing all issues instantly and with aplomb. Tourists coming to Cancun or Playa del Carmen won’t even know a hurricane occurred just 100 miles south.

Right now the concern is for thousands of indigenous Maya who lost homes from Hurricane Dean. Although the area where Dean arrived was the most desolate in Quintana Roo, if not all of Mexico, the Maya have made their humble homes there for a millenia and now their hand-to-mouth survival is being threatened.

The people in this area survive mostly on agriculture and the hurricane winds blew their wealth–mangoes, oranges, guanabanas and mameys–right off the trees just before harvest. Along with their fruit trees also went their huts made from chaca sticks and chit thatch roofs. Corn fields were devastated and farm animals lay dead.

Mexico will begin distributing cash grants to people who lost crops, according to Agriculture Secretary Alberto Cardenas Jiminez.

“The poorest and smallest are those who we’ll help immediately,” he said.

In the glitzy land of Cancun, it’s business as usual. For those just 100 miles south, their struggle has just begun.