Sitting Here in Limbo

By Jeanine Lee Kitchel

I feel like I’m becoming a connoisseur of calamities. And believe me, I’m not happy about it. In 1989, I lived through the Loma Prieta quake disaster (the earthquake that stopped the World Series) and in 2005 Wilma came calling at our door, literally. We live on the beach in Puerto Morelos, 30 miles south of Cancun. Even paradise has its perils.

Now we’re looking at another category 5 hurricane, Dean, that is ready to stomp Jamaica in a matter of hours. The NOAA (National Hurricane Center) trajectory places Cancun and the Yucatan directly in Dean’s path. Although it’s presently “only” a cat 4 storm, it’s projected to become a 5 on landfall Tuesday at 8 a.m. Swell. Everyone in our town plus all of Cancun and the Riviera Maya is braced for the worst. The fishing boats in Puerto Morelos are out of the water, plywood and storm shutters are up, tuna fish is sold out at every store you go to.

A two-year respite from a class 5 storm just doesn’t seem long enough. Although the Cancun hotel zone came back with gusto and Playa del Carmen never lost its groove, our town, Quintana Roo’s orphan, has had no major tree plantings and still desperately needs a coat of paint.

During hurricane season, oceanfront takes on a whole new meaning. We lost a good portion of our beefy seawall during Wilma, but miraculously the part right in front of our house held firm. But where the seawall washed away, so did the entire north end of our property. We lost 200 coconut palm trees, our coconut grove, and managed to save only 40, mostly on the front side of the property that doesn’t face the sea. We’ve since planted about 50 more and even brought in a few pricey big guys, 15 feet tall. If Dean continues on its projected path, all that is at stake. Houses and seawalls can be repaired, but trees and plants take years to come back. I’m already missing the palm trees we might lose.

It’s devastatingly stark around our town now, and the mangroves are still windburned from Wilma two years ago. Yet another high altitude storm will further push back our green zone. The thing about hurricanes is that even though your wishes may come true and your area isn’t point zero, some place else is. In 1998 Cancun sat directly in Hurricane Mitch’s path. We’d braced ourselves for total devastation. In the middle of the night the storm turned southward and hit Honduras, killing 10,000 people. With hurricanes, someone is always the loser. So it’s with mixed emotions that you pray for leniency because you know that with hurricanes, no one really wins.

Our area has a lot of villa rentals, and property managers are still begging guests to leave before the storm. About half of the tourists have taken the smart option and rebooked their tickets for an early getaway. The others will soon know how exciting a hurricane can be. They won’t be bored, for certain, and it will be one of life’s episodes they won’t soon forget. And not a pleasant one. My advice to anyone who wants to “experience” a hurricane: think Katrina. And get thee to an airport.

Time to continue on in my hurricane preparations. If we retain phone lines and internet connections I’ll write more after the storm on Tuesday.