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My friend Betty texted me the day Harvey hit to pray for Jan, her Houston friend who was inflating her pool floats so her family could flee the hurricane. Betty’s message prompted me to google Hurricane Gilbert, the 1988 category 5 hurricane, and dig out the photo album I made after living through its devastation of Cancun, Mexico.

A Youtube video brought back the horror of the wind. My album brought back the sights, sounds, smells, heat, wetness, dirt, terror … and the valiant people, with whom, to my regret, I’ve lost touch. If they find this online, please get in touch, particularly Christian of Chile.

To this day, almost 30 years later, hurricane emergencies like Houston and Irma provoke an anxiety attack. I am so sorry for the humans and animals living through these current nightmares.

Looking at the album I made for my fellow survivors after we were safely home in the US and Chile, the details of our story are still vivid. The hotel we sheltered in, the Mary-Teri in Cancun, is listed today as a one-star hotel, but we were glad of its cinder-block construction and the rooms we shared on the second floor – until the water started coming in through the window frames. By morning, the water in the room was several inches deep and a good chunk of the third floor had blown away. The following are excerpts from my 1988 album.

fr-christian at mary-teri

On Tuesday, the day the Gilbert was blowing in, I had been enjoying Club Med, which was located on an exposed barrier reef. The hotel evacuated us via bus to the Hotel Cancun, downtown, where we were to find a spot on the floor in an enormous ballroom to weather the storm. Christian, above, from Chile, was one of a group of about 10 of us that decided to try to find to find better accommodations. We ended up in the Mary-Teri hotel. Despite its cinder block construction, it suffered significant damage overnight. Below: John was drenched with the water coming through the window frame.

fr-water leaking through window

fr-camion
Above: After the Mary-Teri took a direct hit, we hitched a ride on an open-backed truck in hurricane winds from the Mary-Teri back to the Hotel Cancun, which had lost power and water, to see if there were any important communications.

 

fr-basement

Above: Thanks to my Latin colleagues (my Colombian family would lovingly call them “avispados”), on Wednesday afternoon we were able to get on a bus to the Hotel Intercontinental, which welcomed us with clean beds, food and running water –in the basement the first night, but it felt like heaven. I woke up on Thursday hyperventilating (literally). On Thursday night, the Intercontinental put us in luxury rooms–and never charged us a penny.

fr-shower

Above: We returned to the downtown hotel the next day, Thursday, to find people desperately trying to shower under a drizzling outdoor faucet. No electricity, running water or flushing toilets. 

fr-me with sign

Above: Christian and I tried to find food in Cancun on Thursday night, without much luck, but we did have bottled water and crackers. Here we’re downtown surveying the storm damage, foraging for food. Earlier that day, Christian somehow found his way back to Club Med and retrieved my suitcase from the wreckage.

fr-airport

Above: The Cancun airport had taken a direct hit, so we couldn’t get out. Also, in 1988, no one had cell phones and Cancun’s infrastructure had been demolished, so there was no way to call home to let family and friends know we were safe. Somehow on Friday I got to the airport and somehow got on a flight to Miami (I think speaking Spanish might have helped get through the pandemonium at the ticket counters). I spent a few days in Miami recovering and writing my story. 

Betty’s friend survived Harvey, but not until she and her family had to live through a harrowing time and extensive damage to her house.

To help artist victims of the hurricanes, Blick art supplies, online or stores, will match hurricane contributions.

And the NY Times published a story with legitimate relief organizations.

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