In Yucatan hurricanes are a relatively common occurrence. In the 1980’s, while living in our beach house in San Bruno, we mainly relied on the radio for any warnings of bad weather coming our way. We also had an FM computerized phone patch system that allowed us to communicate with my Father-in-law back in Merida and we could even call home back in the USA. Obviously this was well before cell phones were available but it was the height of technology at the time.
Luckily we never experienced a direct hit by a hurricane while we were there, spending the summers, although we did have a few pass by out in the Gulf. These, along with the occasional tropical storms provided the opportunity to enjoy a little body surfing.
Looking back we were young and naïve and ill prepared if disaster struck. The FM system did come in handy, a few times, when my Father-in-law would call us and tell it us it was prudent to come back to Merida.
Hurricane Gilbert passed directly over San Bruno/Telchac Puerto in September, 1987. I flew back to Merida and drove out to the house in our jeep by running the beach since the road was under water. The storm collapsed our porch, due to poorly made shallow foundations, and blew out all of our windows and doors. We were one of the lucky ones since the house was still standing.
Most recently, Hurricane Isidora in 2002, Hurricane Wilma in 2005, Hurricane Dean in 2007, have wreaked havoc upon the Peninsula and caused several deaths. Undoubtedly, many of those deaths were due to a lack of communication and preparedness.
The coast of Yucatan, and much of the Peninsula, is at or very near sea level. This means that any storm surge will put the entire area under water. The beach area is literally a wide sandbar and the ciendiga/swamp behind allows for the area to be inundated. Yes your heart says to stay and protect your property but DON’T FIGHT MOTHER NATURE! You will lose! If you survive you will have no utility service and the limestone substrate will take too long to absorb the water and you may find yourself unable to leave.
• Register with the US Consulate in Merida at http://merida.usconsulate.gov/contactinfo4.html
• Make a list of all contact information and leave it with family and friends, both in the US and in Mexico.
• Establish relationships with locals, both along the beach and in Merida. This will give you your best option. They know how to prepare! Last but not least, leave the beach area!
• Make sure that your cell phone has international capabilities so you can inform family and friends of your condition and whereabouts. Our Verizon does not have a cell plan in Mexico but can be used, with enormous roaming charges, in case of an emergency. Land lines may be available when cell towers are out. Internet service will be dicey.
Preparedness and Emergency Planning
• Write out an itinerary, as best you can, along with contact information.
• Generate a list of emergency contact information and place with documents. Do not rely on #’s in your cell. It gets wet, it’s toast!
• It is wise to make multiple copies of all travel documents. Leave a copy with friends and family in both countries. I also make copies of visas, credit cards, traveler’s checks, airline tickets, driver’s license, etc. Helps in a pinch!
• Seal a copy of all documents, and the documents themselves, in waterproof containers. We use our Seal-a-Meal.
• Register with the US Consulate in Merida prior to your arrival along with your length of stay. Also let them know that you’re ok after the storm. They are a source of contact for your family.
• Maintain your documents in current status. It is easy, as an expat, to let your passport expire. You will not be able to travel internationally with an expired passport!
• Consider travel insurance during hurricane season.
• Consider purchasing a NOHA radio and watch them on line at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/
• Speak with locals about what they do in an emergency PRIOR to an emergency.
• Of course! Upon arrival, purchase bottled water and food and that would survive a disaster to ensure short term survival.
• Build an emergency kit that should include a first aid kit, flash lights and lots of batteries, water purification supplies, etc.
When I returned to Yucatan after Hurricane Gilbert, I took Spam and Snickers candy bars with me. We lived off of them for days! Luckily my Father-in-law loved them because that’s all we had along with coconut water. Yuk!
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