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Surviving Hurricane Wilma

My husband and I were in Cancun when Hurricane Wilma hit. I had never been in a hurricane and was just there to relax after hand surgery the day before. We were in the tourist part of Cancun at an all-inclusive hotel when we were ordered to gather up a pillow, a blanket, and only medically necessary items as we had to be transported to the city for safety. Upon arriving in the city at another hotel, we were told that we must find another couple to bunk with as there were only a few rooms available. We ended up on the third floor with rain pouring in through the window. We could not sleep as we had to keep soaking up the rain in towels and wring them out. We did not know the couple that we were rooming with, but under the circumstance, it did not matter. I could not help very much as I only had one hand and was in a lot of pain.

In the morning we were told to get out of our rooms and stay in the stairwell. Then the hurricane hit hard. There were people from all countries in the hallways speaking many different languages. It was very difficult to get any information from anyone. We were faced with no power and the water was starting to come in through the ceiling of the hallways. The employees of the hotel did try to board up some areas, but had no proper tools at all. In the end they did not even have generators. Still sitting in the stairwell, I saw that, on the opposite side of the building, rooms were still occupied. We could not go back to our room as all the windows were gone and even the bathroom walls were down due to the rain coming in through the ceiling. The only safe place would have been the shower. Being desperate, I knocked on one of the doors and a whole group of young people from Italy answered. I asked if we could come in and just lay on the floor for a while and they invited us in and gave us two chairs. They were laying on the floor with the women getting up every half hour to soak up the water coming in under the door. They gave us some cookies also. In the morning, as we left their room, we noticed that some of the people were breaking down some storage areas for safety. We found a room on the top floor that was used for storing some hotel items. We had to break the door in to use it, but felt somewhat safe even if it was a cement floor. At least we had our pillows and blankets.

You must realize that, by this time, all of the toilets were flooded and not working. The smell was terrible.  Since we were on the top floor, we were able to go out on the roof to go to the bathroom. Never in my life did I think I would have to do something like that. Even though the storm was over, we could not get to the lobby as the water had covered the stairway. Of course, the elevator did not work either. The employees put tables in the water and used them to get to the stairway to bring food to us. Needless to say it was not the kind of food for us since we were not used to their water. The fruit and juice were made in Cancun and I got the runs from it. They also set up a section in the lobby to make sandwiches. We were fed only twice a day for two days.

Finally someone obtained a ladder and put it up to the second floor so that we could all get out. That is when the real fun started. We found some chairs in the lobby and put our pillows and blankets in them. I was able to see the doctor at that time, and he gave me pills for the runs. He also took out my stitches. I was in so much pain and had no pain medication. We had no clean clothes either. It was also at that time that I learned that 750 people were put in a large room, some with babies. I would have given up my room had I known that.

Now I was shaking, I was so hungry. I asked if I could have a piece of bread as it was not yet time to eat. They let me in the area and gave me several pieces of bread. I must say the people were kind and did what they could. They dug a hole outside and put some boards around it for the bathroom. But now we could go and find food or drink, and we were told that the trucks were giving out water and food. Again I never thought all the pictures that I had seen with people in line to get water and food would ever be me.  We were able to get the water but they ran out of food by the time we got there.  On the way back to the hotel, we saw a line in front of a 7-11 so we got into it. While waiting for our turn, one of the national guard of Cancun walked right up the window and got cookies and a soda.

I was so desperate at that time that I walked up to him and told him I was hungry. I asked him if I could have one of his cookies. He gave me several. Afterwards, I thought that I just could not have done that, not me. Was I really that desperate?

At the window of 7-11, I gave them a twenty-dollar bill and asked for chips, candy and soda, and whatever else it would buy. We got our stash and went back to our chairs at the hotel, only to discover that some of our pillows and blankets were missing.  Then a man from the U.S. came by looking for someone, and I asked what he wanted. He said that we were in the other side of the hotel and a couple had left a room and it was available. We jumped up and ran as fast as we could to get to that room. We had to climb up a flight of stairs that urine was running down, but we did not care that someone else had slept in the bed. We did turn the sheets around and slept that night in a bed.

The next morning we met some people that were going to hire a taxi to get to the nearest airport 200 miles away. We joined in. There wasn’t any news as electricity was not available— not any news, at all, from anyone. Also, we later learned that the U.S. had sent some buses for its citizens, but without communication, we did not learn of it.

About 50 miles into the trip, we came across an area in the road that was covered with water. We had to get out and help push the car through the water. There were snakes and alligators in the water. However, the next time we did not make it, and the car died.  Many cars and buses were in the water as all were trying to get out of the area. Some were coming in to get people out and did not make it. Then a Mexican chicken truck came by and we hitched a ride on it. About a mile down the road, he ran out of gas. Back on the road again we found a van headed in our direction, and after some negotiating and all of us piling in on each other’s lap, we were once again on our way. All in all it took us nine hours to get to that airport.

When we reached the airport, we found many, many people in line. We noticed a little table in the corner for Frontier airlines that assured us that they could get us out the next day for $1000. We signed up and headed for a hotel and then to a store to buy new clothes. I had to have a pull-up pair of pants as I still could not use my other hand. They did not have any so I had to buy a man’s pair of swimming trunks and my husband had them cut off a pair of pants for shorts. Then we found a place to eat. I wish I could tell you that I slept well, but I walked the floor most of the night in pain.

The next morning we arrived at the airport at the stated time, only to find out that there was no flight to Miami. I lost it then, as my husband’s medication for seizures was gone. Unless we could get home that day, he would be in trouble. They put us on another airline and we had to go through Denver to get to Miami. Arriving in Miami, we were told that we could not retrieve our car until the next day due to Hurricane Wilma. So we headed to rent a car. Upon getting in the car, it only had a very small amount of gas in it. I asked them to fill it up and was told they had none. I decided not to rent from them, and went to another rental car company that had gas. We finally made it to Naples where Hurricane Wilma had also gone through.

We had lots of damage to trees in our area, but our home was intact. About a week later we heard from the hotel that had our suitcases that they could not afford to send them to us and we would have to contact FedEx to have them delivered. That cost $350 and, believe it or not, the hotel put our bottles of Kuhlua in my suitcase, and of course one of them broke. You could smell it when they delivered it!

I learned a lot about human reaction to a disaster and saw and did things I never thought I would. One of the sad things that we saw was looting by families. They would come back to the hotel with boxes of things from the stores. One store owner opened his door thinking he could help us by selling needed items and the people stormed in and just took everything. That was why the 7-11 had only a small window open. I don’t think I will ever go back to Cancun, and certainly will not travel during the hurricane season or after surgery!!!

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