I recently watched “The Impossible” a movie based on the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia that hit an area heavily occupied with tourist during the Christmas holiday. The story brought up my own experiences with natural disasters and although, not nearly as catastrophic, I still had visions of my experience. I remember when the tsunami hit and the video and pictures that were captured before during and after the event. The thousands of videos posted online were horrific and hard to imagine nature’s unrelenting force. After watching the movie, I was curious to learn more which was a normal response to any “based on a true story” film I watch. An hour passed as I watched video after video and flipped through before and after photos before I decided I would put it off until another day. Flash forward to the present today, days after watching the film, I am still thinking about the trauma and the memories we hold onto during events like these. Human nature is tested to the vast limits. An appreciation is revitalized for life and the gifts we are afforded by our good jobs and civilized communities.
My experience during Hurricane Odile 2014 was in some ways life changing. My family arrived in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico on a beautiful perfect, as always, September Saturday, ready to start our annual vacation. Before we left Ohio we knew there was a possibility of some stormy weather for a day or two, but that a hurricane was out of the question by the time we landed. We checked into our home away from home, made a plan and dispersed. My brother-in-law and I went to gather dinner while my parents, my sister and her 3 children tested out the pool. We all turned in early that night ready to be rested for the next day. We woke up early and coordinated the plan for the busy morning ahead. We received a notice under our door that morning about some storms moving through the area and to take precautions. After a long timeshare meeting, in order to get some extra perks during our trip, it was time to head to the store for our weekly rations of water, Mexican Doritos, and plenty of beer for our room. As my brother-in-law, dad and I left the resort everyone was confident that Odile, now named, would pass over and not get close enough to ruin the week. I remember feeling anxious and those concerns were confirmed as we walked into the big box retail store. My brother-in-law kept saying “When the locals worry, we will worry” and “When in Cabo…”, this was the turning point of the vacation. As we searched for special tequila and mixers we noticed we were among mostly locals who had lots of water, canned food, and non-perishables stacked to the tops of their shopping carts, like they were stocking up for a big storm. The three of us looked at each other and decided we probably better stock up on more items we can consume without power rather than beer and chips if in the unlikely case Odile is a bigger deal than they were saying. After some revisions to our shopping lists, we got to the check out where we waited in a very long line. As we waited among the locals the sky above us was churning and had darkened the skylights by the time we were through the line. It was a feeling that made your adrenaline pulse and your stomach ache with fear and excitement. We loaded our Hurricane rations into the taxi with the help of our driver and cracked a few pre-storm beers for the ride home, and mostly to settle some anxiety we developed after seeing the clouds over the ocean. I asked the driver while pointing to the clouds, “How do you say Holy Sh*t in Spanish?” he chuckled and said “Holy Sh*t”. I can not describe the way the sky looked, but the feeling we would not make it back to the resort before it hit was definitely going through my mind, but we made it back with some time to spare. We said Adios to the driver, over tipped him and wished him safe travels home before the storm. The bell hops offered to take our groceries to our rooms while we got there ourselves since it had started to sprinkle as the dark clouds from the corridor had followed us to Medano Beach.
We reunited with my sister, the kids and my mother and waited for my dad who had stopped at the front desk for information. My sister informed us they had evacuated the pool and held a mandatory meeting right after we left, Odile had turned and was expected to be a direct hit to Cabo San Lucas. That worried feeling I had started making sense. The resort had enforced a strict curfew from 7 pm to 7 am, no one was allowed off the resort or out of their rooms for any reason. Odile was expected to hit around 9 or 10 pm. We had a few hours to situate the groceries and make a plan as to where we would ride out the storm with 3 kids and 3 adults. We decided to stay in my room since there was a little more space and it wasn’t directly facing the ocean. It was about 5 pm local time and a storm started brewing around with high winds with stinging rain, we realized this would be an interesting night.
The outer bands of the Hurricane had passed so during the lull we decided to get out of the room for a bit before our 12-hour curfew. Our whole family stood near the pool overlooking Lands End and watched nature’s incredible force build. We snapped pictures of large waves, watched some workers from the beach club try to prepare a structure for the night and talked about what else but the weather with the other onlookers. There was an eerie feeling among the other guests, but a beer and a smile was really all any of us could do. Nearing 6 pm we decided to head back to the room and settle in, we said good-nights to my parents since they were in their own room across the pool from ours. We wrangled the kids up the 4 flights of stairs, the elevators had stopped working hours ago and decided to sit out on the balcony facing the ocean as long as we could, safely, be there. We witnessed some amazing force as the waves crept over the Mt. Solmar and Lands End, we were sure it had covered Lover’s Beach by now. Many video clips from that hour included “Oh My Goodness!” and “Look at that wave!” and “Holy Cow, did you see that?”. The kids who were ages 10,8 & 4 had an amazing reaction to the weather and asked great questions, they didn’t seem afraid or maybe they didn’t understand what was coming in a few hours. They were innocent and untouched by nature’s fury unlike my sister and I who had survived an F4 tornado in the mid 80’s, she was 9 and I was 5 and I remember it every time we have bad weather.
7 pm approached and we headed back to my room, we sat and tried to watch tv, although not much was coming in and the power was surging, we read and talked and I occasionally peered out the window, against the resorts advice and apparently a spirit’s advice that was there protecting us as well. The winds started picking up around 8 or 9 pm and we started to figure out sleeping arrangements utilizing worst case scenario, that included wind, rain, glass shattering and who would grab which child to protect. We all laid there for what felt like a minute, just enough time to take a breath and the phone rings. My brother-in-law answered and said “Hello? Okay, I understand, thank you, good-bye” and hung up the phone. He turned to us calmly and explained that we needed to move to the bathroom right then because the resort was taking on too much wind. I bolted up and started taking cushions into the bathroom for us to sit on and probably sleep on through the night. We loaded the small bathroom with the kids stuff first placing them in the enclosed shower for extra protection. I grabbed as many items as I could thinking we would need them, my sister grabbed the alarm clock to have some sense of time and hopefully to access a local station for updates. One of us grabbed the water and put ice in the sink to keep it cool, my niece grabbed her activity bag so she could have something to do. My brother-in-law and I were the last ones in and we both stood there and looked at each other to be sure we hadn’t forgotten anything. I said “Should we grab the beer?” and he paused and thought about it for a second and said “Nah, I think we will be good”. We closed the door and sat down and in less than 5 minutes we heard shattering glass, we assumed it was the sliding glass door in my room. It had just gotten real. At that point, my niece was in the shower with the boys and I think she picked up on our nervousness, right away she felt sick to her stomach. I knew at that point I could not show my fear or anxiety that I was so used to doing in the comforts of my apartment. I had to be fearless for her.
We passed the time, 6 hours, with all sorts of activities including mad libs, guessing what was making the screeching metal sound, wondering if the eye had passed due to the pressure, falling asleep for a few minutes at a time, using the toilet in front of your family and an occasional dry heave. At the 6th hour, we decided to venture out after it had gotten quiet and my brother-in-law was at his limit for diminished airflow. It was hot in a small bathroom with 3 adults, no air flow and water starting to seep in from under the door. We moved the cushions from in front of the door and we could see tiny slivers of glass in the water. Shoes were close by and I volunteered to go out first, not sure why, maybe I was just the closest to the door. I expected there to be furniture stacked up against the door down the hallway, remnants of what was our resort room thrashed around, but it didn’t seem like anything had moved, at all. The glass on the sliding door had broken, and a lamp had fallen over, but it was still on and working. There was a receipt on the table near the broken door that didn’t move an inch and was dry as a bone. Other than that there was water on the floor from the balcony drain being clogged. My brother-in-law decided to check out their room to see if it was in good, bad or ugly shape while my sister and I gathered some items that hadn’t made it off the floor. He returned with the news that their room was untouched, a bit flooded but untouched. We made the move with 2 sleeping angels and 1 impressionable 10-year-old girl. Me, my sister, and her husband shared the king sized bed and the kids share the pull-out sofa, we were able to get a little rest while we still could.
The next morning and the days that followed really changed the way I think about my life today. I was thankful for my family and that the Hurricane although a category 4 left us unharmed. We spent much of the days following trying to figure out how to get home and how to ration our food we purchased earlier in the trip. The resort was incredible during the experience and supplied us with 3 large meals a day. The resort guests stuck together and respected the man in charge. Some of us suggested cutting back to 2 meals a day to conserve supplies, while others volunteered their rental cars and stood in line for hours to get fuel for the generators that supplied 10 minutes of electricity and water in the morning.
Two days after Odile hit we had a general idea of how we were getting home, military evacuation. We had heard that some other resorts had turned out their guests as refugees and some of those misplaced travelers were breaking into other resorts for a place to stay. That invoked another curfew of 7 pm, we were essentially locked in the resort. It was the hottest night by far and both my sister and I were having a hard time sleeping, with the security guards flashlights shining and raised voices on the resort it made for a very restless night. The morning came fast and we started our routine and headed to the mandatory meeting, we were told to go back to our rooms and get packed like you needed to leave in 1 hour. The resort had provided buses to get their guests to the airport and room there we would be flown to various airports to then be flown to our home states. We hurried back to the room and packed up, donating items that we knew could be of use to locals that had lost their homes. I left CMH with 47 lbs of luggage and came home with 20 lbs, which included my niece’s empty suitcase in mine. We were ready to go and only had a few items to grab in the event we were called to leave that morning, we assumed we would be on the list considering we were travelling with small children, but nothing had been what we expected since we arrived. As we were finishing up my dad came in and let us know they would be leaving and not to tell anyone, they didn’t want to start a commotion. He said that he thought we may be next and we said our goodbyes. I went down to drop off my donations and spotted my mother who was shocked that we hadn’t been called to leave. I asked her to be sure they knew we had the kids because I had a feeling there was miscommunication when taking the roll call the day before. We hugged and exchanged sentiments. After arriving back to the room and settling in with a margarita, assuming we had been put on the next day’s list, there was a knock and a friendly “Hola?” I jumped up and greeted her with excitement. She asked if we were ready, we were but had about 10 minutes worth of changing and grabbing last-minute items to do. While my sister and brother-in-law checked the room for important items I started down the hall with the kids to be sure the bus waited. I swept my youngest nephew up into my arms and told him to hold on, he held me tight and something changed inside of me. We caught up with my parents who had made a case for us to be with them and it turns out the owners wife was to thank for making sure the kids were safe and on their way. We road in the resort owners extended cab truck through downtown Cabo and saw so much destruction it reminded us how lucky we were.
A long bus ride to the airport gave us more visuals of destruction that Odile left. We arrived at San Jose Del Cabo Airport to find at least a 2 mile long line of people waiting, the airport was destroyed, it looked like a war zone. As we dredged through the sand and dirt someone informed us they were letting mothers and children stay under a shaded vestibule. I went with my sister and the 3 kids to wait and hopefully find out as much information as I could to relay back to my parents and brother-in-law. We waited a long time, maybe an hour before we spotted the resort General Manager, who recognized us right away. He asked where everyone was and I pointed them out the best I could. He went in the direction I pointed a little while later he returned and spoke to a representative of the military, he yelled over to me that babies go first, I looked at my sister and said let’s go, I asked him if I could go get the rest of my family and he motioned yes and to hurry. I sprinted the fastest I could to retrieve my family. I told them “we came here together we leave together.” We hustled up the driveway at least a mile and heard airport representative motioning for Mexico City, Guadalajara, Tijuana, LA. I heard LA and made the decision to head there, it could not have been better timing. We were in the line to fly out to LAX within the hour. No security, no customs just generous Southwest staff greeting us and helping us get boarded, offering us water while we waited for them to manually “check” everyone in. As we started to taxi we were given a sack lunch, that had to have been the best lunch I had ever eaten. As we took off and felt the plane turn I looked out the window and saw the wrath of Odile, I started to cry, I couldn’t contain it any longer. I was relieved that we made it unharmed and safe but I was sad for those living there that couldn’t leave. They would have to clean up, rebuild, start over. I felt guilty for leaving but happy my family was together.
We landed at LAX later that evening, I can’t tell you what time it was, it was exhausting and we still had to get home to Ohio. We settled up to the American Airlines counter and got put on the first flight out in the morning, non-stop to good ol’ CMH. I searched for a hotel close by and decided against the $50/night hotel for a more trusted option in Marina Del Rey. One 10 minute $80 taxi ride, 2 $150/night hotel rooms, 2 $20 pizzas and 1 Coors Originals, shared with my best buddy brother-in-law, later – we were safe and sound. The next morning we flew home and not until the taxi ride back to our cars did I realize she got it, my 10-year-old niece got that we were lucky. A man asked if we were in Cabo during Odile and my niece answered back, “Yes, and we were lucky, some people lost everything” She was right some people did lose everything and we still had everything.
Knowing that my 4-year-old nephew trusted me to get him home and having my family give me the lead at times gave me a new sense for what life should be. I never thought I was meant for a family until he grasped my arm because he trusted me, or that my niece donated practically her whole suitcase because she knew what it would mean to someone else, or how unphased by the rain and wind my 8-year-old nephew slept through Odile. I think about those days spent in my favorite place at least once a day and think back to how it could have been worse. We were lucky, we were protected and because we were I am thankful everyday or this life.