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28 September 2014 by Published in: Uncategorized 35 comments

It’s no surprise to my blog followers that a little weather disturbance threw me for a loop on Sept. 15th.

Specifically, the largest hurricane on record to make landfall in Baja, California, scored a direct hit where I live.

For those that wonder what being in a category 3 or 4 hurricane is like, consider a jet on takeoff in the rain. If you’ve ever flown in a storm, you know how the water appears to be moving sideways at such speed it could strip paint.

That’s what it’s like. Only worse. Because it keeps going for hour after relentless hour.

The real irony is that when the eye of the storm hovers overhead, and you’ve just spent three or four hours of damage control on all the east-facing doors and windows, and for a half hour of exhausted relief you think you’ve made it…then everything reverses, and the winds hit from the opposite direction, adding insult to injury for another three or so hours and bringing the hurt from the other side, so all your damage control does nothing and you have to start all over again.

The main storm really started to batter at eight pm. Power went out at eight-twenty. Fortunately I’d prepared, and had flashlights, batteries, candles, etc. ready. I also had hurricane protection across my large glass areas. Canned food. Tons of bottled water. Tequila. Dog food.

When you live in a home that’s built out of steel and concrete, not much should worry you. Not fire – concrete doesn’t burn. Not rain – it’s not like it melts. Not wind – doesn’t blow away.

That’s how I was thinking. By around ten o’clock, as water poured beneath my front door (and through it, where the wood joints connect) and the windows were flexing in their aluminum frames, I revised my opinion. By eleven, as my hands cramped from wringing towels into a bucket to dump down the shower drain, I revised my thinking again. Even with hurricane protection in place, every window became a river – there’s no way to 100% seal a window under 130-140 mph pressure. I discovered that rolling up garbage bags and stuffing them into the tracks slowed the flow by maybe 50%, so rushing rivers become more manageable streams. But we’re talking every room quickly becoming a lake, no matter what you do.

By the time the storm had blown past, around four a.m., I was beat, and beaten.

The next day was a landscape straight out of hell.

My house experienced some damage – roof tiles that blew off with such force they took chunks of the cement slab beneath with them, exterior wrought iron lamps that blew away, an iron door that tore off its hinges and flew who knows where, uprooted palms, debris everywhere. But as I walked the alien landscape that was my neighborhood, I realized I’d been extremely fortunate. My next door neighbor’s front doors had blown in, his windows had broken, a tree had torn part of his roof off, and the storm had basically roared through his home for six hours. No need to exaggerate the effects of high-pressure water on plaster, paint, carpentry, or furniture. Suffice it to say it’s not pretty.

Another house up the street was missing all its windows. Its garage door was crumpled in the middle of the street about fifty yards away like discarded tissue. The place on the other side of me had steel storm shutters across most of its windows – a great idea. The problem is the several that didn’t (because they were considered structurally sound enough to withstand 150 mph winds) blew out, as did the double front doors, exposing the new home to the full wrath of the storm. As I walked past it, I noted that the garage door had also blown in,  probably from the pressure change when the windows went, the resulting debris totaling the two cars inside.

All of these places are built out of cinderblock and rebar. Otherwise there would be nothing left. I got to the security area near the entrance, where an administration trailer had been – a big one, maybe forty feet – and it was gone. There were a few desks scattered around the area, but no trailer. Trees had blown down, and through doors and windows, and the entire entrance was clogged with debris and broken glass and bits of peoples’ homes. Of thirty houses I looked at, half were devastated. As in, wrath of God, biblical end times, devastated. Most residents had left before the storm hit, or use their places as winter homes and so weren’t there. So thankfully there weren’t too many people around to be injured in my subdivision.

An exception was my neighbor, who suffered deep lacerations from broken glass that claimed most of his hand. The doctor was apologetic about lacking any morphine or local anesthetic while she dug shards out before stitching the gashes up – everything had been destroyed by the storm, the hospital flooded, the windows broken, supplies blown to the far horizon. Another victim was brought in by a weeping woman as we left – a pane of glass had sliced his entire left side, from his ribcage, all the way down his back, wide open. He didn’t look like he was going to make it. The doctors were doing what they could for him when we pulled away. There were more cars limping toward the hospital, through two feet of water, the effects of broken glass and flying debris lethal.

Anyone who wants a feel for what the aftermath was like should google Hurricane Odile, Cabo, and look at the pictures. I can assure you they are the tame version.

The looters appeared the night after the storm. I won’t belabor this, but let me say, on the record, that the looting destroyed almost as much of the area as the hurricane. My heart was heavy as I watched the poor, those from the barrios who had just lost their homes, looting every retail store they could get to. Desperation does strange things. 95% of the population behaved honorably. The 5% that didn’t were those in true need…and those who viewed it as a chance to prey on others without consequences.

It took the Mexican government almost six days to get sufficient troops in to stop the looting. I stayed for five of those days, doing what I could to help my neighbors, absent power, water, food, gasoline. I decided to pull out when the flashlights of looters swarmed over the community one over from mine, like glowbugs after dark, the only sound that of glass shattering as they broke into homes. When my maintenance guy appeared the next day to check in with me, he advised against being on the road. There were rumors of truckloads of armed thugs going neighborhood to neighborhood, robbing and shooting anyone who resisted. Apparently a lack of accountability emboldens the criminally inclined, and after five days, there was nothing that was off-limits.

When I left I followed a police truck out of town. My last recollection is of driving past two men in the process of robbing a small, family-owned tire store located on the far edge of town, stuffing the bed of their late-model Dodge truck full of free tires. This for me typified what had gone on – those preying on their neighbors because they could, rather than out of desperation or necessity. It was a tiny minority, but numbered in the thousands – when I drove by the looting of Costco on night number two or three, there were hundreds of vehicles there. Would that this was mass hysteria over getting sufficient food to feed the baby. Maybe some of it was, but mostly it was guys loading refrigerators and big screen TVs into SUVs.

To put it into perspective, Wal Mart, Sams Club, City Club, Costco…none were damaged by the storm. They made it through fine. As I drove by them, all were gutted and looked like battles had been fought on their grounds.

I plan to return as soon as there’s dependable power and food. Right now that looks like a week or two away. Hopefully. There’s some power to some areas, and then it goes off as the 110 transformers that were initially shipped in error instead of the 220s that should have been, blow up, adding weeks to the mess.

I’m fine. I got off light. My bruises, scrapes, etc. are healing or healed. I’m on mainland, the dogs are safe, all is well.

But on the list of things I never want to do again this is one of them. Been there, done that, got the shirt.

I have sketchy internet where I am, so won’t be online a lot. Sorry about that. Moving around with a couple of big dogs is challenging. The sparrow is doing well – my maintenance guy’s cousin is at my house, daily, doing essential repairs, feeding and watering her.

Hopefully things will get back to normal soon. But it will be a long time until I can drive by Wal Mart and not see it by bonfire as looters run amok, frenzied grins at getting something for nothing on their faces, or see Vinoteca (a large specialty wine store) being looted by guys in Mercedes SUVs, breaking the glass of the rare cognac section with a fire extinguisher so they can get to the really good stuff. Because, hey, someone’s going to get it if they don’t, and right now it’s free, right?

The problem being, of course, that there’s always a price. Nothing’s ever free. For the Los Cabos area, I fear that the price will be paid for years to come. Paradise lost for a TV or a washing machine or a fridge.

To say I’m saddened by my fellow man is a serious understatement. But I’m not surprised. If anything, I’m surprised not by the number of predatory and opportunistic, but by the number of honorable, good people who did the right thing and didn’t join in. Alas, it doesn’t take many of the bad, who dress and behave like the good and smile with false friendliness until a disaster hits, to ruin it for everyone.

Human nature. You see it in all disaster areas. New Orleans. The Ukraine. The Middle East. The list is endless.

I suppose to hope that we as a species are better than we actually are is foolish. We are, at our core, our own worst enemies.

The Mexican government is being commended for its rapid action. For five days after the disaster, it did nothing and allowed criminals to run amok. The media spin is BS. It took six days for them to stop looting and impose a curfew, and the road to La Paz, down which the trucks that carried the soldiers rolled, had been open the entire time. They could have been here within 12 hours. Instead it took almost a week. The day the serious troops showed up the looting stopped. Being lawless suddenly carried repercussions and lost its appeal.

I hear everything’s now back to normal, being cleaned up, rebuilt as well as is possible to do without dependable power. I’ll be heading back once I hear from my neighbor that the electricity’s been on for more than a few hours, and there’s food in the stores. Until then, I’ll continue my refugee existence – hopefully not for too much longer.

Oh, and before I forget, if you want to do something worthwhile, want to help, go to the website for the Los Cabos Humane Society and donate. The animals got the worst of it. If misery has a face, it’s an animal after a hurricane. They’ll need all the help they can get. I plan to donate time and money upon my return. If you feel stirred to do so yourself, there’s no better cause.

That’s the update. Now go buy my crap – someone’s got to replace the lost tequila, and it ain’t buying itself.

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Comments

  1. Sun 28th Sep 2014 at 2:53 pm

    Your words convey devastation in their simplicity. I’ve been waiting for this blog post, I knew you’d update us. I already knew it was bad from my uncle–his house was one of those whose windows blew wide open and rain tore through, literally tearing the paint off the walls. I get exhausted and sad thinking of the work ahead. My parents and family went through two heavy ones on Kauai, I was elsewhere both times and grateful for it.
    I’m sorry.

    Reply
  2. Sun 28th Sep 2014 at 2:55 pm

    I was waiting to hear from someone who maybe could be more realistic and eloquent expressing what happened. We all know about the Hurricane. It’s the aftermath and I thank you for that. I always say I feel so safe in Mexico, but you’re right human nature is… human nature. It’s so sad about the looting as of course some big box stores might take this as the opportunity to leave Cabo. Small specialty shops may not have been insured for this. They certainly weren’t in PVallarta in 2002. I was here. Heartbreaking. I wish you the best. And I know you will be in the front lines of those helping people and animals. The Dog Whisperer will be needed. Might as well tell your handyman to increase the kennel out back!

    Reply
  3. Amy Eyrie
    Sun 28th Sep 2014 at 2:55 pm

    Oh my God. I had to write it out because three letters wouldn’t do the job. This is a riveting account of the hurricane and the aftermath. Thanks for your sharp observation.

    Reply
  4. Sun 28th Sep 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Wow. Just wow. You bring everything into sharp focus, and there’s sadness and hope in equal measures.
    I hope things get settled soon, and you can rebuild your life.
    Heading to http://www.loscaboshumanesociety.com/ now.

    Reply
  5. Sun 28th Sep 2014 at 4:13 pm

    Sounds like a nightmare from hell. The online photos prove it. Thankfully you’re safe.
    I will donate to the Los Cabos Humane Society. Thanks for the idea.
    Take care and feel better.

    Reply
  6. Ingrid
    Sun 28th Sep 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Tragic, human nature letting itself down yet again

    Reply
  7. Sun 28th Sep 2014 at 6:14 pm

    I hate to say been there and done that too, but we have. We faced off with Hurricane Hugo in 1989 – I’m with you, I never want to go through another one again either. I’m sending prayers and good wishes to you and your dogs, and I will also donate to the Los Cabos Humane Society. If you find yourself near Tucson and in need of a dog sitter while you sort things out, let me know. I’ll be glad to help out. Stay safe.

    Reply
  8. Sun 28th Sep 2014 at 6:22 pm

    “Canned food. Tons of bottled water. Tequila. Dog food.”

    The order of that list alone tells me how bad it must have been.

    Reply
  9. Sun 28th Sep 2014 at 8:25 pm

    Russel, this post was brutal to read yet your candor and ability to describe the event made it riveting at the same time. Thank you for sharing it with us. It must have almost been like reliving it as you wrote. I am sickened by the way some humans behave in the face of adversity, and yet there are those unsung heroes who shine at the opposite end of the behavour scale. I’m happy to hear that you and your dogs are unhurt. Thank you for the suggestion to donate to the Los Cabos Humane Society. We may think of ourselves as top of the food chain and the caretakers of the Earth, but if we all did a LOT more caring and a lot less taking, this place would be better for all creatures, humans included.

    Reply
  10. Sun 28th Sep 2014 at 11:07 pm

    Russel,

    Hurricanes leave scars that take years to heal. Sorry to say, your town is going to look wrecked for a good five years minimum. That’s how it was after Katrina. Two, three years later people were still trying to do the repairs that would let them move back into their houses. Then there’s the stores, which won’t do business until people get back, and vice versa. It takes a lot of time.

    Glad you came out of it okay.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 29th Sep 2014 at 7:35 am

      To put it into perspective, Katrina had weakened to a Cat 3 by the time it made landfall.

      Odile was a Cat 3 that picked up sudden strength as it neared the peninsula due to the warm water from the Sea of Cortez, and many here suspect it was more like a 4 when it actually hit.

      I think the one thing we have going for us in Baja is no levee system to fail. And no professional agitators or plaintiff’s bar to create an anticipation of entitlements for those of us who survived it. In Mexico, the power company is repairing the power – it wants to get paid, and the only way to do so is to provide power. Ditto for the water company. But there’s no social network to catch the fallen – they either get to work, or they starve. I kind of approve of that. Eat what you kill, don’t whine and expect others to kill for you so you can eat.

      But beyond that political reality, the government of mexico will do little to help. It will maintain troops and a police presence to quash any social unrest, but the rebuilding will be entirely private sector, which is why it will happen relatively fast.

      Reply
      • Jim Self  –  Wed 01st Oct 2014 at 12:59 am

        And Katrina didn’t actually hit New Orleans directly.

        Good to hear you think it will be repaired pretty quickly. I was down in Mississippi right around where Katrina hit land, about 2 years after the fact. Aside from the damaged property, the damage to the forests, roads, beaches, etc. was what shocked me most. It still looked like the day after a bad storm.

        Take care man.

        Reply
  11. Mon 29th Sep 2014 at 12:35 am

    Wow… take care Russell. Stay safe!

    Reply
  12. Mon 29th Sep 2014 at 11:37 am

    Hey Russell – I apologize for the flippant tone of my comment above. I hadn’t read the entire post, got distracted, then came back to read the whole thing and wanted to swallow my tongue.

    Sounds like you went through hell and came back strong, just with a deeper understanding of the black underbelly of human nature that you probably didn’t need.

    Glad to hear you’re safe and I hope the restoration and reconstruction of everyone’s body and mind down there is beginning and succeeds.

    Reply
  13. Autumn
    Mon 29th Sep 2014 at 11:49 am

    Russell,
    Glad you, the dogs, the sparrow all made it through.

    Reply
  14. Mon 29th Sep 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Definitely time for a contribution to the humane society. I am a great animal enthusiast as I rescue guinea pigs that have been abused, so I get it. They’ll definitely hear from me and my wife.

    Best of luck to you.

    Reply
  15. Mon 29th Sep 2014 at 1:50 pm

    Wow RB.
    So, glad you’re okay. Best of luck in putting things back together again. I’ll pop a donation to the humane society. Hopefully, some animals can be rescued. Foremost, stay safe and take care.
    W4$

    Reply
  16. Mon 29th Sep 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Hey, Russell. Glad to hear you’re okay. I’ve been through a few hurricanes myself on the Gulf Coast of Texas. The howling sound the wind makes while bending the wooden doors is similar to the screeching of a monster. I’ll never forget it. Again, glad to hear you and yours are alright.

    Reply
  17. Mon 29th Sep 2014 at 7:53 pm

    Glad to hear you’re safe and sound. Thanks for the link to the Humane Society.

    Your writing survived the storm, this is an excellent account. I’m thinking you have more material once your life and neighborhood get back to normal. You and your community are in our prayers.

    Peace, Seeley

    Reply
  18. Tue 30th Sep 2014 at 8:02 am

    Gets life priorities right. Glad you are ok physically. Re looters there is a very fine line between civilisation and anarchy … As in UK after riots the other year. I look at the pictures of those who have lost their homes possessions and loved ones in war and natural disasters and hope for peace and safety.

    As the documentary maker said when standing on the weed covered pyramids in Mexico … These will probably still be here after mankind has disappeared from Earth.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 01st Oct 2014 at 2:02 am

      I just heard from a friend that the head of the civil protection department for Cabo had the Federales stop by his house. Apparently there were three truckloads of looted merchandise there. So as far as the notion that those perpetrating this obscenity on their neighbors being the desperate and starving, no, mostly just the larcenous and thieving. Apparently the cops are now going neighborhood by neighborhood, and anyone with suspiciously new stuff has to either show a receipt, or is assumed to have looted.

      I could not make this up. I will say that those I saw looting for the most part were driving awfully nice vehicles. Nice to see confirmation that at least one of the biggest predators is a government employee chartered with protecting the community he looted. I mean, look, most politicians and those who suck at the public milk tit are crooks, but for crying out loud, talk about adding insult to injury…

      Reply
      • Alexander  –  Sat 04th Oct 2014 at 6:50 pm

        That’s awful. Many people who were caught looting in the UK riots seemed to be OK types who lost control and now have a criminal record for the rest of their lives and presumably many regrets.

        Hope you can get your life back soon. I suppose there may be a little bit of a positive in that you can apply your wonderful story telling abilities to a book about the event based on actual experience.

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Sat 04th Oct 2014 at 9:52 pm

          You know what? There’s no such thing as an ok type who loses control. The problem is that the bad look just like the good until they’re tested. That’s one of the lessons from this – these were not monsters. They were a combination of the desperate (I’d say maybe 50%) who didn’t have any food or water, and the opportunistic who saw the ability to profit from misfortune at the direct expense of others.

          If I rape someone, I’m not an okay guy who lost control – I’m a rapist who manages to look like everyone else until I have my opportunity.

          We’ll have to disagree on that one. We all make mistakes, but deciding you’re going to go out and loot someplace isn’t a mistake – it’s a deliberate act, specifically of theft, because you think you can get away with it. The difference between the good and the bad is that they don’t do bad things, even though they think they can get away with it.

          Reply
  19. Tue 30th Sep 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Thanks for telling the adventure of your night in the hurricane. I went through Betsy in New Orleans in 1965 but I was in a dormitory, not a house filled with my own stuff.
    Glad you survived and hope you get home soon. And very glad to hear the animals are ok too.
    Bill Thompson

    Reply
  20. Tue 30th Sep 2014 at 2:39 pm

    For some reason, I thought you drank your Tequila around Lake Chapala, hence were reasonably safe from the wrath of that hurricane. Instead, I read now about your nightmarish battle with Odile. I can’t even imagine the prolonged terror living through such a monster, and am glad you were relatively unscathed—as obviously is your descriptive vocabulary as, happily, are your animals.
    I sailed into Cabo after an unusual freak storm had hit out of the south one night in December of 1982. The high swells broke every anchor rode slamming forty yachts onto the beach (opposite the old Hacienda). At two AM, as the disaster became clear, many Mexicans drove their old jalopies onto the wet sand, disregarding inherent danger to themselves and their vehicles, and trained their lights into the mayhem of groaning vessels, broken spars and tangled lines so that the stunned and frantic sailors could at least save themselves, if not their boats.
    What has happened to lending a helping hand – and I don’t mean in the sad sense you described? Yet, there are those who always help – as you did, first with your neighbors and then with the animals. But we didn’t expect anything less from “our Russell.”)
    Ok, now I have to go and buy some more of your crap.

    Reply
  21. Michael Picco
    Tue 30th Sep 2014 at 4:15 pm

    As in your writing, this first-hand account of Odile is nothing short of breathtaking! We here in Northern California just dealt with the King fire, apparently set by a crazy arsonist; over 97,000 acres destroyed. I am glad you and your pets are safe and may your life come back to ‘normal’ quickly!

    Reply
  22. Wed 01st Oct 2014 at 8:38 am

    What were your dogs doing during the storm?

    My family lives in Northern California. My brother-in-law is a firefighter who helped fight the King fire, and his and my sister’s two little boys had their schools closed due to the smoke.

    Crazy times.

    Reply
  23. Julia Kent
    Wed 01st Oct 2014 at 9:56 am

    What a harrowing experience, compounded by the disillusionment/disgust with the looters and the failure of the federal government to step in on time. Glad to hear you and your dogs made it through if not unscathed, at least alive and safe.

    Reply
  24. Sue
    Wed 01st Oct 2014 at 1:20 pm

    I donated money to Los Cabos Humane Society – thanks for letting us know about it. It would’t have occurred to me otherwise.

    Reply
  25. Teri Babcock
    Thu 02nd Oct 2014 at 3:13 am

    Your account was gripping reading, Russell. Glad to hear you’re safe.
    I live in Vancouver, BC. We aren’t prone to hurricanes, but we do have a long and venerable history of looting and rioting on Game seven of Stanley cup finals.
    None of the looters were poor, or stealing iphones and prada purses to put food on the table (believe me, if they had, they would have used it in their rather pathetic defenses).
    They did it because they could, because the huge crowds insulated them from the police. Because there was nobody there to stop them.

    Reply
  26. Russell Blake
    Sat 04th Oct 2014 at 11:45 am

    An update:

    San Jose Del Cabo airport opened six days ahead of schedule. Depending upon who you talk to, it’s either bleak as a war zone there, with only intermittent power and scarce staples at the groceries that are open, or things are improving hourly as the local businesses race to get the towns into shape for the start of tourist season.

    Obviously, I hope it’s the latter. I’ve been told not to try to return for another couple weeks due to water and power issues.

    But for all the grim reports, I’ll say living out of a suitcase is no fun, with spotty internet and two large dogs. But it is what it is. More to follow when I know more.

    Thanks to all for the well wishes, and to those who donated to the Los Cabos Humane Society.

    Reply
  27. Traci
    Sat 04th Oct 2014 at 6:53 pm

    Hey–I’m glad you lived through it. Sorry that humans, in general, suck so much. I am hoping you are home and all is well again.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 04th Oct 2014 at 9:56 pm

      No, still living out of a suitcase. Probably won’t make it back until the week of the 15th.

      The good part about all this is that the vast, vast majority of folks behaved admirably. If the area has 300K inhabitants, and 5% are either desperate or are scumbags, that’s 15 thousand looters. If 1%, that’s 3K. I’m guessing it was more like 1%, which means 99% did the right thing even though there was zero chance they’d get caught. That restores my faith in humanity to some degree, when I look at the numbers. I think if 99% of any population behaves well, that’s a win. It’s just a shame that the 1% painted the rest with the same ugly brush.

      Reply
  28. Traci
    Sat 04th Oct 2014 at 11:34 pm

    Sounds like you came out with your head on your shoulders still and…maybe a suitcase full of tequila? The numbers are impressive, quite honestly, I tend to expect the worst. A mere 1% being the worst causes a lot of damage…but is a little hopeful.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 05th Oct 2014 at 1:36 am

      The good news is they frigging MAKE tequila on the mainland!!!

      Yes, it’s all a question of perspective. I like those odds as well. 2% of the American population, and growing, is in prison. And those are the ones they caught.

      Reply

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