The Eye Of The Storm

180 mph winds battered our shelter mercilessly – there were more than a few moments when I thought that my number was up – I was actually going to die here!

Hurricane Wilma was the most intense tropical storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin!

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*Rewind*

Late October 2005, four mates set off on the holiday of a lifetime to Cancun Mexico!

The mood was good, this was going to be a great vacation!

Unfortunately for us Wilma had other plans!

I don’t know how many of you reading this have ever been in a real storm before? I don’t mean to say that the ones we get over in the UK aren’t real because we’ve had some pretty shitty weather in our time too, and the recent flooding has been devastating the length and breadth of our beautiful land.

But i’m talking about an actual Hurricane; The kind that rips trees clear from the ground and throws cars about in the air like they’re matchbox toys! I’m talking about the kind that blows out entire sections of buildings and pummels out internal walls… and brings the sea in at a seconds notice…. and rain that’ll make your head bleed it’s that intense!

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For a man that is not a great flyer, I have never been so glad to get on a plane and go home in my life. The sight of those storm troopers marching alongside the battered runway was a memory I will never forget as long as I live!

We knew something was up when the sea started bubbling and lashing the rocks outside our hotel! We went swiming anyway, despite the red flags, and despite I had picked up a chest infection – what a dick move that turned out to be! If it hadn’t been for a few favourable waves and shallow rocks I’m certain we would have all drowned that afternoon! I always thought of myself as a strong swimmer…. after that experience, not so much!

A notice appeared on our door on the second day:

‘Dear Hotel Guest…..’ I forget the exact phrasing, but it had undertones of alarm – be ready as shits about to get real!

“It’ll probably miss us” we joked!

It wouldn’t miss us!

Day three…

‘Dear Hotel Guest….’

Our coach was the last one to leave the bay… trust us to pick the furthest damn hotel from the shelter! By this time the palm trees were bending omminously! The weather forecast said Wilma was forming into the largest on record. We weren’t so jovial any more!

The sky looked black and moody over the sea…. she was coming!

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The shelter was packed with about 1200 people or so we were told. It was hot and cramped… but it was a shelter none-the-less and we weren’t about to complain about it. There were several mothers with young babies – I felt for them!

We waited for what seemed like an eternity….

Then she struck…. and she struck hard!

It started squally, as we received the first hint of what was to come…. “is this all you got Wilma?”

Laughing and keeping our spirits up was all we had, we’re British after all – that’s what we do when the chips are down!

A window at the far end of the corridor cracked! I heard some noise so I went to investigate to see if I could help. Water was starting to seep in from behind the shutters. The hotel guests and members of staff had started to nail the canteen tables to the inside of the window frame. You know it’s going to get bad when you have purpose build storm shutters, double glazing and you’re nailing inch thick timber to the inside of a brick and concrete building!

I shouted to someone if there was anything I could do, and they threw a towel at me and told me to ring the water into buckets. I did this for about 20 minutes until the hold in the window was temporarily patched and the rain stopped coming in so fiercely.

We didn’t sleep a wink that night….. but Wilma had only just got started!

It seemed like almost another day passed and still no 180mph winds that had been threatened. But it didn’t take much longer. The guys at the front door had a huge set of strong-looking doors which they had wedged open just a crack to allow fresh air in. Outside the front door they had pulled a huge diesel generator and hooked it up to keep a little light on.

Conditions were starting to deteriorate quickly!

We had each take a few mini cans of soda from the mini bar, plus some pretzels and chocolate which was all we could find. We each took one extra item of clothing and a towel to sleep on. We weren’t planning on being there more than a day, or two at the most!

The toilets blocked and running water got cut off!

The supply of water and drinks that the hotel staff had managed to move from our hotel before Wilma struck were running low. People had been helping themselves in anticipation of an early reprieve from Wilmas’ clutches.. It didn’t come!

We had a little food. The hotel staff were incredible; they rationed out food for everybody once a day so that everyone had a tiny bit…. until that two ran out! It was us and the mini cans and bag of crisps from now on till she passed over!

Dan and I stayed up all night on day 4 I think it was. We stood watch over the drinks and when people came to help themselves we gave them each half a cup of watever liquid we could find. We gave more to the children!

I heard stories of fighting and of mothers stealing nappies and other baby supplys off each other! It was a depressing scene – you realise about survival of the fittest in these situations… I had never experienced anything like this before!

A few of the guys and me went round the entire block asking if there were any medical professionals in our midst as some people (most people) were getting sick… the poor babies were screaming and screaming! I remember asking everyone to hand over their medicine supplies so that we might get a makeshift doctors surgery on the go! To my amazement 90% of them did so willingly, and before long there was a queue of about 50 metres heading up the stairs to our surgery. We had about 4 or 5 Doctors and other medical people up there actually administering aid and giving out the necessary drugs to people – it was a beautiful thing, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank those selfless people from the bottom of my heart! Because I never got the chance that day!

Have you ever been inside the eye of the storm?

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I can say that It is one of the most intensely powerful feelings! Very dark and eeryily peaceful.

We knew that a few miles away Wilma would be ripping through the Yucatan Peninsula.. and that she would be back for us! The tail end was yet to come!

For another day and night she battered our shelter relentlessly!

Upstairs, a portion of the roof blew off and windows shattered all around; I heard screaming as people ran for cover!

Downstairs an ex-military man who had helped us with the medical supplies walked around twitching his trigger finger – people were finding it tough in that shelter!

Day 5 and as soon as she had come, her tail end passed over us… and she was gone!

Calm decended.

We ventured outside and just stood and looked about at the devastation surrounding us! Everywhere was flat!

Buildings were gone.

Trees were snapped in half like twigs.

Miraculously I think there was only a very small handful of cassualties! Nothing like Katrina… We had had a very, very lucky escape!

This is only half my story of what happened to us over those 7 long days and nights!

It’s like therapy every time I tell it…. for me personally I had some demons on returning to the UK, and they have stayed with me for a long time.

I saw things I never want to see again!

I’m sure there might be some of you reading this who were in Mexico in late October 2005. I wonder how you remember it!

If I learned one thing during that time it was to stay calm and put others in more need first! I was fairly fit and strong, others were not!

Mother nature is a powerful misstress!

I will go back there one day, to that hotel, and i’ll visit the shelter, and i’ll say thank you to the staff that helped keep us safe!

If you’re having a ‘blah’ kind of Friday, just remember, there is always someone worse off than you!

Enough from me already!

Stay safe this weekend!

Peace

Z

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