A TROPICAL FULL MOON IN SEPTEMBER
On September 7th Jane and I were enjoying our birthdays with a week on the Caribbean shore accompanied by the
new moon and we both commented that September either has the very best of weather or the very worst. Well, this
new moon gave us a slice of paradise. We swam in the crystal clear Caribbean seas that were gentle and lazy, even
the tropical trade winds slowed to give us an unusual and lasting placid memory.
Hurricane Isidore Sept. 22, 2002 at 19:01 UTC heading for Merida
We did our usual Saturday morning bike ride to our favorite coffee shop, “Café Latte” in Itzimna, a colonial
neighborhood near our home for our usual “ice mochas” and conversation with the locals. Then we went on to shop
at “Chedraui” for our staple food provisions.
As we loaded our bikes and began our two and a half kilometer ride home, we encountered our first “hurricane rain”.
This is a very fine rain that usually comes down while the sun still shines and appears to have been atomized
because the drops are so fine and evenly spaced that they seem to dance and float through the air propelled by the
gentle and almost playful gusts of wind.
Make no mistake about it; this is the per-cursor of a tropical storm and all hurricanes start this way. The weather
pattern becomes very predictable with sun followed by hurricane rain, dark clouds and then very heavy rain that
quits abruptly. This whole huge system resembled a spoked wheel that is slowly turning and moving forward with its
spokes the different weather changes that pass over. This pattern becomes more frequent until all hell breaks loose
and the full fury of the storm is upon you. This is exactly what we had all the remainder of that Saturday afternoon
and evening. Our satellite TV also died that very same afternoon.
Sunday morning 22 September, Jane and I awoke to dark skies, a temperature of 80 degrees and heavy rain driven
by gusty winds.
We usually bicycle to the city center where we are regulars at the restaurant “Express” for breakfast Sunday
mornings. This day I had my doubts due to the sleazy weather. Jane said, “The rain let up, let’s go!” We were off for
a spirited ride and we arrived some twenty minutes later at the city center-“ El Centro ”, for our usual breakfast with
the usual crowd, and it was very pleasant as usual.
On our way home we stopped at Wal-Mart and next our corner store to shop between down pours of rain. Our
corner store is one block from our home and as we left there, the hurricane rain came down with vengeance.
It was time to make provisions for the coming storm. I pumped up all of our “tinacos”, we have three one hundred
plus gallon roof top water reservoir tanks. Then I shut off all of our six toilets. A leaking toilet can surely frustrate
your efforts to conserve water. Next, we removed the things from our upstairs patio, took in our lawn furniture and
picked the last fruit from our zapote tree.
We had lunch on our upstairs tile roofed patio and as the storm intensified, we had to pull our dining table further
and further into our living room due to the ever-increasing fury of the driven rain.
After lunch, we closed all of our upstairs windows and went downstairs to Jane’s office where we collected candles,
portable radio and batteries while doing some last minute Internet.
At 3 PM it became apparent that this storm would indeed visit Merida as the full force came swooping down upon
us. The city cut all electrical service at this time.
As we tuned our radio, we quickly discovered that of the 20 plus local radio stations, only one remained and it was
quite informative. This was the state government station and the mayor, governor and functionaries from the local
utilities all took turns updating the state of conditions. The man from the power-company assured us that the electric
service would be reinstated in two or three hours. Well, twelve days later we were finally connected, which now
seems like a miracle considering the destruction done to the entire state.
We were informed that the storm had indeed made landfall and was apparently headed south of us, which would
present its least damaging winds as it passed.
A convoy of trucks full of refugees had just left the port of Progreso and other coastal towns headed to Merida . All
of the towns east of there were now completely isolated from any type of communication with the rest of the world as
the storm veered inland from its track along the northern Yucatan peninsula.
*Note: (The most powerful tropical hurricane in the history of the world, “Gilberto" with 26.22 inches of mercury or
888milibars within its eye struck this same place in September of 1988. We can attest to its lethal destructive force.
Not a single leaf was left on the few trees remaining standing for a distance of one hundred fifty miles of its track. All
of the power poles from Cancun to Merida were laid down. Not a window, door or scrap of furniture including floor
carpeting remained in the Cancun hotels where the storm came ashore. On the north coast, the high storm tides
came 20 miles inland at some places and when they retreated; they took with them highways and homes that only
left gaping holes filled with water to mark their spot. There was total loss as not even the land to rebuild remained.
Some years ago the feminists at the height of their fanatic exuberance proclaimed that hurricanes must now have
male names. For some reason now, every other hurricane has a male name, if you will observe. In some circles,
these “hurricanes” came to be called “him-a-canes”.
We have had several encounters with hurricanes while living in Florida for 22 years and here in tropical Mexico for
14. This would be our first direct hit with a storm of this magnitude.
From 3PM until dark the defining howl and whistle of the wind was punctuated with an almost relentless sound of
crashing glass and sheet metal pumping and pounding. To set foot outside at this point was to invite death. As I
peered out the horizontal, driving rain exploded into a vaporized mist on all surfaces it contacted and huge trees
went flying down our street like tiny tumbleweeds.
Our upstairs would not be habitable that evening because of plate glass windows that seemed to have exploded like
hand grenades sending shards of glass everywhere. Next, the vaporized rain entered with a velocity in excess of
250 kilometers or one hundred and fifty miles per hour. We were certainly happy that our roof remained as many of
the homes here were not only unroofed but many lost several walls to boot!
It was a very long night and as an announcer on the radio commented, “Estamos adentro la boca del lobo”, or we
are in the wolf’s mouth. That was very aptly put.
This type of event is much easier to take if it is not your home and property that are being destroyed.
Monday morning, 23rd of September
Dark, wet and very windy with a temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit as we got out of bed at 5:30 AM to begin
picking up and appraising our losses and damage. The six-foot square clear dome that covered our spiral staircase
to the second floor had departed.
The hurricane was sucked into Merida . First, passing us to the south and thus presenting us with its most
destructive force then circling around to the southwest where it stalled for four hours before retracing its steps and
eventually exiting off into the Gulf of Mexico on its way to give the US its last shot.
Jane sopped up ten gallons of water from our downstairs Florida room floor. I found our dome in very small pieces in
the neighbor's yard. We tried in vain to begin our clean up. Our upstairs was wet, with leaves tenaciously stuck
everywhere. We were ready to collapse by ten AM and our hands were cut to ribbons from cleaning broken glass.
Our backyard garden was next. With a machete and saw, I cut a path through the tangled mess of downed trees and
twisted sheet metal.
One surprise was that the buckets we had placed out to collect rainwater were full of brown putrid and stinking
water. We still used it to flush our toilets. By that evening, we were like strung out zombies and again slept
downstairs in Jane’s office, as it was one of the only two dry rooms on our premises. The other dry room was in our
guesthouse where I have my shop and office.
Tuesday, 24th of September, we were up at 6 AM , tired and stressed out. All repairs and cleaning had to be done
without electric power or running water. We fixed broken glass, cleaned the yard and street. By noon , Jane had the
ice from the defrosting refrigerator and our grocery items packed into our freezer that she covered with all of our
blankets and it held ice for four more days. I prepared our gas refrigerator for the time it would be needed.
We continued to have rain and wind but we were now able to move back upstairs to our main living area. We made
sure that we had eaten and cleaned our dishes before dark each day. When darkness arrived, it was beautifully
quiet. Even gasoline was very scarce because no electric was available to pump it. Therefore, for us this was not as
bad as we now only have our bicycles to get around on. The city bus service would not be able to run for five days
due to the streets being impassable with downed power poles and toppled trees.
Each night our short wave radio was our companion and we listened to “Voice of America “and “BBC”. These are
like old friends as in Europe each year this in our nightly entertainment. It was bad enough to see all of the
destruction around us all day but at night to listen to what G.W. Bush had done to piss off the entire world and build
a coalition of force against the US was only magnified by the plummeting equities market.
Wednesday, 25th of September, we again awoke tired; it was still raining and 80 degrees Fahrenheit and continued
all day. Now a smell of dead fish was everywhere and we trudged through the day fixing and cleaning.
We were now receiving news of the area damage. The death toll to wild life was astonishing; thousands of flamingos
were gone. Birds and insects were blown away along with their homes and nests or drowned.
Domestic animals did not do any better and it was estimated that over eight million chickens, pigs and turkeys met
their demise in this event. Now, to cope with the rotting corpses!
Thursday, 26th September, we were up at 6:30 AM and it was 79 degrees Fahrenheit, but with less rain. All was wet
and we took advantage of a brief show of sun to repair our Spanish barrel tiled roof. Though many of the tiles were
blown away, we were able to retrieve all of them and miraculously only one of them was broken…we had extras. I
told Jane that the reason that they had survived the two-story decent to the ground was that that they did not strike
the ground but landed in water that cushioned their fall. This was a major improvement in our standard of living as
now we would be able to enjoy our lovely upstairs patio protected by a roof to shield us from the elements.
While the sun was still shinning that AM we got on our bicycles and made a sojourn down the main street named,
‘Paseo de Montejo”. This was our first glimpse of the horrendous damage outside of our immediate neighborhood.
Work crews were swarming like thousands of ants with chain saws and many with machetes cutting and clearing the
roadway. With our bicycles, we were able to maneuver through the debris. Broken glass was scattered everywhere.
Not a single building was spared damage and our old friend Jorge Millet’s family would be making many more
millions of dollars replacing the tons of broken glass and mirrors. As my dad always used to say, “nothing is ever so
bad that it isn’t good for someone”.
Our main reason for this trip was to go to the business that sold domes to get a replacement for our large six-foot
square dome that blew away and shattered. That was two weeks ago and it has not arrived yet but we did make a
provisional dome that would keep the rain out and still let the sun in.
We made a tour around the main city center park known as the “Zocolo” and there they had electricity. It seemed so
strange to see a place with lights and electric fans turning. Somehow, it felt like the “Twilight Zone” after no power all
week and no promise of when it could be restored.
By this night, we were again drop-dead-tired.
Friday, 27th September we were up at 7 AM with more rain. We took a bike ride to assess the damage and just to
escape the confines of our house. We felt a need for the refreshing exercise but everywhere we journeyed we saw
horrendous damage. The rich had their crews in working under their supervision but the poor people with no
resources or tools had a wretched time coping with blown away roofs and toppled fruit trees.
This day our first city bus came which meant that progress had been made clearing the streets. That afternoon our
Mexican daughter, “Lupita” and her daughter Luna came for a visit. We had a lovely time. She brought her digital
camera to download the storm damage pictures that she had just taken and could not believe we did not have
electricity. In her subdivision, they were only without electric for two days. It would be twelve days for us.
Saturday the 28th, we got out for our early morning walk and later took our coffee on the main boulevard street,
“Paseo de Montejo”. The rain was still with us and we were still collecting it but it was now clean so we used it to
wash our clothes, hammocks and towels.
We really did not need any more rain but that night we got deluged and could not believe that it could possibly soak
into the ground. I told Jane that our well would be soon so full that we would soon be able to dip water out by hand.
Sunday, “one week”, we biked early to the city center for our usual breakfast out. Our usual restaurant was open
with the lights on and the electric fans turning but they had no water to wash dishes or flush the toilets so we found
another restaurant with water. “La Habana” restaurant was very good with excellent service and they had an added
feature of Internet, which we used.
The rain was relenting but after a hurricane the weather pattern changes and the tremendous amount of moisture
deposited generates more rain and the cycle is slow to change. We live in a normally semi-arid region and seldom
have rain or even clouds in the sky.
We have lost trees in the garden and at our age, replacing them could be fruitless. If that sounds like a pun, it is.
We will have job security due to the storm for a long time to come, though very occupying it is only to replace what
we once had.
*Note: One of my favorite quotes from George Bernard Shaw regarding nature: “this shows the greatness and
majesty of God and the littleness of man”
My favorite comic strip regarding fate is from “Hägar, the Horrible” by Dik Browne:
Saturday the 21st of September, the
day of the full moon we were up at 6:
30 AM for our regular “power walk”. It
was a lovely tropical day in Merida by
any standards. My comment on the
calendar that morning was: “80
degrees Fahrenheit and humid”. Jane
and I went on the Internet to do our
business and check our e-mails. We
had an e-mail from our dear friend in
Florida , Deb Ball’ advising that
hurricane, Isidore then leaving Cuba
and headed for Florida had a high
probability of coming our way. Jane
immediately started our freezer and
began to make ice.
The following are a collection of photographs and newspaper photos taken in the aftermath
of Hurricane Isidore in Merida , Yucatan , Mexico
Calle 28, around the corner from our house before Isidore and a few days later.;The wind stripped the beautiful tree
of all its leaves.
Around another corner from our house, the power poles and lines were down and someone's galvanized sheet
metal from their roof was hanging in the wires
Our back yard the day after the storm. Most of our trees were down and leaning on our walls.
Calle 35 and Calle 20. The first photo is after the stom and the bottom photo was taken a couple days before
Isidore hit us.
The plaza grande and city hall.
blown down throughout the city.
Our neighbors at the end of our block were happy to have survived the long night.
Billboards and car dealerships didn't weather the storm very well.