Sunday, September 09, 2007

Hurricane Henrietta Storms the Sea off Loreto

This week’s buzz and excitement was the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Henrietta. There was little talk or expectation as she moved north and took her time reaching Cabo. At a Category 1, we didn’t think she had much steam but were weary how quickly things can change.

We out on the boat on Monday and the current was very strong. On Tuesday, the water was smooth as glass but Captain Chino knew better from the look of the sky. He knew we had to get to safety by 11 am as the dark ominous clouds were approaching like a cloud of locus ready to devour all in its wake.

Everyone worked hard to prepare for the worst, and hoped for the best. My staff was battening down the hatches, filling buckets with water and buying food that did not require cooking in case we lost power. My bartender Sergio was very smart and stacked our patio furniture and tied them all together as he knew the wind would scatter them throughout the neighborhood. Everything that could be picked up was put away; large windows were taped to avoid shattering in case they broke.

This is how the sky looked as I drove to Nopolo at 5 pm Tuesday to check on my Casa Chica. The streets and construction site were deserted after all the workers did their best to protect the homes, board up all large openings, remove any debris that could fly about and cause damage. Even the 2 outdoor port potties were tied together and lay on their side as Hurricane John taught us what could happen. Everyone not living in Nopolo fled to their homes to secure the same, and to sit and wait.

Everyone worked very hard to secure the area, including LBC Construction Office, Contractors, Owner Services, Property Management, and Concierge at the INN, who put in long hours going from home to home to ensure they were secure and answering all the concerns of homeowners. Sandbags had been placed at front doors, copulas had been wrapped, doors and windows secured in homes that were empty. Here is Rudolfo at 7 pm after a long day of preparations. I wished him luck as I made my way downtown to face the wrath of Henrietta on the malecon. I knew many would be staying in Nopolo and it was going to be a long night for all of us.

I told all my staff to go home to be with their families, including my night watchman who lives across the large arroyo in Zaragoza. The hotel was empty and there was nothing more that anyone could do to prepare for Mother Nature. I was very apprehensive since I have been in many hurricanes and tropical storms, but always as a hotel guest and never having to worry about protecting my property or my safety. I knew that I would be alone and totally helpless if windows broke and things started flying about. Or worse, if I was injured and no one could hear me scream. At this moment, I decided that I am really getting tired of being a strong single woman and resolve to change after the storm. I may be stubborn, but not stupid.

Matt and Mel from Australia came in looking for a room. My staff was hesitant whether I should accept guests as it was a great deal of responsibility during a natural disaster. The threat of losing power, water, with no shops or restaurants being open for days was a great possibility. Are you kidding me?! I was just thankful to have two strong young men to keep me company and help me out in case things turned bad.

We sat on the patio as the sun went down and watched as the waves become stronger by the hour and the wind made the palm trees dance. We felt safe and hoped that Henrietta would lose momentum, or at least change directions. At midnight I was in the office mopping up the water that was coming through every crack in the ceiling, walls and windows. The police drove by regularly as did some of the residents to see and hear the massive waves reaching over onto the street. It gave me some comfort that help was near if we needed.

The power went off about 2 am, which meant no air conditioning. Try to sleep in a hot humid room with the rain pounding on the metal roof and the thunderous waves just a few steps from the building. The wind was howling Henrietta’s imminent arrival and there were continual loud crashing noises of some destruction or other every few minutes.

The first thud and glass shattering I heard was when the 12`x4` wind screen that was screwed to a large steel frame and attached to cement posts broke lose. The frame snapped and somehow managed to gain enough momentum to knock down the Coca-cola fridge I had up against it. The frame bent in half and was precariously perched over the side the building. Mel and I knew we had to pull it back in and secure it down otherwise it was likely to be carried away by the wind and hurled at some unsuspecting person or object.

Trying to get back to sleep was like being in a dark cave unable to ignore all the curiosity of noises surrounding you. The next crash was even louder and I raced upstairs thinking the palapa roof had been blown off. Not quite that bad, but now the Corona refrigerator full of beer and glasses had come crashing down and the smell of beer permeated the night air. Nothing can be done now in the 75 mph winds and rain.

This time I toddled off to my room and decided not to come out again until the break of day. There was the sound of pounding rain all night long and broken tiles or objects tossed about. As soon as the sun was up, I ventured out and the sea was wild, with the waves increasing in size and intensity with every wave. The large swells crashed over the malecon and were flooding the street. Andres had come by and we carried in my 4` Nellie`s Bar sign that was attached by steel to the building. It is very lucky that there were no cars or pedestrians nearby as that surely would have caused extensive damage.

Cars starting cruising the malecon about 9 am when the storm seemed to loose some momentum and everyone wanted to take photos or play in the storm before it disappeared. The water was 3 feet deep in some places and there were teenagers near the edge of the rocks laughing and getting sprayed by the large swells that over swept them.

Power came back on shortly about 10 am and it was good to have coffee and watch all the towns people come out and see the waves. Many times during the day it would appear that the water was calming and the waves were further and further apart, and then without warning the intensity and force of the water would start up again. This happened all day long until the sun went down, even though Henrietta had long past this area.

Other than inches of water seepage in some buildings, signs and lose debris scattered about, there was not much other damage on land. The office and hotel rooms had remained surprisingly dry as we had put towels and buckets near every possible entry point. Most of my staff came by during the day to check up on me and offer assistance if needed. Joel is one of our Realtors and he was driving around the different areas to see where flooding occurred and which properties may be problem areas in the future. What a crazy man!

Here is a story from Joyce Mickowski of FN300 about their experience being on the water in the 50`catamaran.

Hello Friends!
You would not believe our night with Henrietta! We were up all night as the hurricane ran through Puerto Escondido. We had winds up to 80 knots, and generally constant at 65 to 70 knots. Our boat “Rhumb Line” broke her new mooring with the line that was supposed to hold the twin towers! Oops...Well when it broke it sounded like someone fired a cannonball!


In thirty seconds our boat was on top of another boat (this was when the worst of it came at 3:30 a.m. ... rammed this boat at the bow between our hauls. I thought for sure that Mick was smashed between the boats because it knocked me down flat, this was a movie scene in the making! But Mick was so fast getting back to the helm and moving Rhumb Line out from over the other boat, our grand twin turbo motors saved the day as we were flying close to two others. The whole fleet raved about Mick's ability at avoiding the other boats with 80 knots of wind and waves pushing us. NO OTHER BOAT IN THE HARBOR COULD HAVE MOVED AS FAST AS RHUMB LINE DID!

We could not see due to the huge amount of water spray. Water stinging like someone was shooting Bees at us! Poor visibility and the number of boats in the harbor hindered us from finding any place to safely lay anchor. We did, but with only a small amount of scope (we had 3 to 1 and we need 7 to 1). Mick ran the engines and was at the helm motoring against the winds of Hurricane Henrietta from 3:30 to 7:00 am.

Mick and I discover that we were great partners during this crisis. Team work and knowledge. Hell, I just did WHATEVER the captain said and it was fast and furious, but we leaned a lot too. In Puerto Escondido, there were a total of 5 boats sunk. Three are really down on the bottom of the Sea and the other two smashed up against the rocks. No human being or animal was hurt. Thank you God!


These incidents are emotionally and physically draining. The anticipation of the unknown is stressful enough but when combined with the realization that we have absolutely no control of the outcome; the effects are humbling and disabling to say the least. We seldom have the luxury to analyze the different turmoil that we undergo and its affect upon us when situations like this occur. Instead, we must immediately clean up, get back to a routine and move forward as though nothing happened as quickly as possible.

In a couple of days, we are already laughing and telling stories of this 24 hours as though it happened last year. Only those that we shared the anxiety, sleepless night, and long day with will understand that we no longer like storms, and longingly seek calmness and predictability when it comes to Mother Nature.

Have a great week!

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