Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hurricane!

In the course of transferring files over to my new computer (my old HP notebook crashed and burned–ay caray!), I came upon the folder of photos I'd taken in the aftermath of Hurricane John–a direct hit on our little Baja beach community of Cabo Pulmo, four years before. The memories came flooding back, as though it was yesterday. The morning after, I'd written an email to friends and loved ones, which I copy below. Interestingly, even the weblink the to storm track has survived! Thought I'd share this little recuerdo from ol' Baja...

Dear friends and family,


I thought that sitting out a hurricane would be fun. It was not. As far as I can tell, the eye of the storm passed directly over Cabo Pulmo (http://www.bajasatellite.com/Hurricane-John-Storm-Track.asp). This was a Category 3 hurricane when it made landfall here, with winds around 150 mph. As of this morning, the storm has passed and it’s raining intermittently. Nobody was injured. Everyone has suffered property damage. (I was here solo as Diane was in Marin dealing with our house up there.)

I spent most of Thursday making preparations, then most of yesterday (Friday) waiting for something to happen. By late afternoon it started getting very windy, but I felt I had taken all the reasonable precautions. When the rain went horizontal, water began dribbling down the patio walls. I went around placing kitchen towels, eventually breaking out the bath towels too. Little did I know!

The wind was blowing hard from the NNE, so the main patio was a refuge of sorts. I moved the patio furniture inside and closed the flop-up kitchen windows. I left the half-wagon wheels open, thinking to relieve the pressure differential inside the house. Our semi-enclosed bedroom was fine, other than a bit of water drooling down the walls. I was enjoying the storm at this point, and decided to fix myself a drink. I squeezed a pomegranate from our tree into a cocktail shaker, added lots of crushed ice and a jigger of vodka, and gave it a shake. Delicious! I settled into the bentwood rocker on the patio, and starting recording the experience in my notebook. The wind increased a couple notches and the air became thick with mist (even though I was on the lee side). So I dragged the rocker into our bedroom area and prepared to retreat into the house. I noticed that the window behind our bed had sucked open from the back-eddy of wind coming around the corner of the house. After futilely trying to fix it shut (there’s no latch), I gave up, bundled up our bedding, and brought it into the living room. I also noticed that the bi-fold French windows were jiggling on their latches. I was going to brave one last run to the garage to get some clamps to secure it better, but got distracted (which I was later to regret!).

I took a seat on the sofa, started getting concerned. Then I heard a metallic clatter and saw the BBQ lid bounce along the patio. I reached out the door and grabbed it. Then I heard a loud scraping sound as the bent-wood chair and set of iron-base nesting tables clattered across the patio. I had overturned them and wedged them into the corner of the tiled concrete BBQ base, but the wind had wrested them loose. So I grabbed them and dragged them inside, too.

The half-wagon wheel window over the kitchen sink slamming shut really got my attention! The skylight lid over the kitchen started bumping and rattling like a snare drum. Then it stopped (as I was to later learn, it went flying!). All the windows in the house were shaking and rattling on their latches and hinges, like a possessed demon-house out of a grade B horror flick. At one point I was pushing against the north door thinking to reinforce it, realizing that all that’s keeping it shut is the knob lock and the strike plate in the jamb! I was honestly terrified.


I retreated to the Bat Cave, our 3’x 5’ concrete corner closet with steel door. We designed it into the house to provide secure storage in our absence and to serve as a safe place in a hurricane. I’m sure glad it was there! I noticed the storm lightening a bit. The window clatter lessened. I emerged from the Bat Cave to see the entire floor under an inch of water. I looked around to assess damage and tentatively went out onto the patio. I noticed a solar panel dangling over the roof edge, and saw others in the yard. Juan Angel (our mariachi sculpture) had been knocked over and decapitated.

Gradually, it went utterly calm. As I was to later learn, this calm was the eye of the storm passing directly overhead. I went up onto our roof patio and took in a scene of total devastation. The Castro water tank was gone, toppled from its 50’ high tower. There were huge waves breaking left off the Cabo Pulmo point. I got cable cutters and cut loose the solar panels. I thought to jury-rig a temporary shutter over the skylight, but I noticed the wind picking up again so I thought better of it. I went back downstairs and grabbed the squeegee, pushing the water out of the house. Was I ever na├»ve!


The wind began to build steadily again, this time from the SSW. Before long it was blowing just as hard as before, only from the opposite direction. Muddy water was blowing in under the door. I watched water streaking horizontally across our ceiling! I beat a retreat to the Bat Cave with some dinner (cold leftover brown rice with a bit of chicken, washed down with some Clamato juice sitting conveniently sitting there on the shelf). I felt safe and secure inside the Bat Cave. As the wind slacked off I exited the bat cave, put my wet bedding on the sofa, and prepared to pass the night. I slept OK, all things considered!

I ventured out at dawn to a scene of total devastation. The front car gate is completely wrecked. The bedroom bi-fold French windows are gone, blown off their hinges. The bedroom room divider went flying and the armoire had blown over, caught at a crazy angle by the rocking chair jammed into the bedposts. The paddle fans are toast. All the palapa roofs suffered some damage. The red walk-in gate is hanging there, immoveable on bent hinges. The BBQ cabinet doors are gone, as are the doors of the cleaning supplies closet. There is muddy water all over the house. On the new house project, our brand-new-two-week-old garage door got blown in, with water everywhere.

Worst of all, the yard is devastated. Virtually every tree was either up-rooted or had its crown shredded. Giant cardon cacti were snapped off at half mast. It is truly a heart-rending sight. Everyone in town suffered similar damage to greater or lesser extent. No one was injured. Lots of broken windows and lost solar panels. Trees blown over or shredded. Now begins the slow process of cleaning up and drying out. I had to cancel my planned trip to San Jose today, where I was going to meet with prospective buyers of our home (www.CaboPulmoHouse.com). We were going to work out the details of a purchase agreement. Not sure where we stand after this…

All the best from Baja,
Roberto