Karen's Blog

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Just one more disaster

We’ve all come to expect the worst in 2020; but I never dreamed that I would survive a tornado and a hurricane in the same year. I’ve jokingly said that I can’t travel to Asia this year even if the travel ban is lifted. If I do, I’m sure that I’ll be in the middle of a typhoon!

Hurricane Delta surprised us all. As I scanned the weather report before my departure for Cancun, it was obvious that I would spend part of each day of the week enjoying some rain. Not to be deterred from my trip, I packed an umbrella and a rain poncho. There. I was set.

Not so fast. Within 24 hours, a little rain had turned into a prediction of a Category 4 hurricane. There I was in a foreign country with just me, my wits, and an oceanfront hotel between me and the big storm.

How did I handle it? The best I could with the cards I was dealt. I am certainly not an expert on survival, but I thought I’d share my thought process as the storm strengthened and some tips that might help if you are in the same unwanted predicament.

1. Find someone who speaks the language and determine the exact plan that the hotel has for the guests. For us, it was a rated Category 4 space where make-shift beds were placed. Bring your pillow and blanket since you have no idea of the length of stay.

2. Think of the most important items that you may need and put them in a waterproof bag. For me, those items included my passport, money, credit cards, a flashlight, my phone, a portable phone charger and charging cord, my car keys, some nuts, chapstick, and of course my pink lipstick! (I also threw in some Tums for fear of the strange food I may be forced to eat if the storm caused severe destruction.)

3. Think survival. I packed a lunch box (orange bag) with bottles of water and also put bottles of water in my suitcase. I ordered room service with foods that I could put in resealable bags to survive on my own after the storm. I ordered bacon, cheese, bread, yogurt and fruit. I know from experience that those items can last a few days without refrigeration.

4. Think about the aftermath. I hoped my suitcase and its contents would survive and that someone could find the owner if it did. So, I put business cards in resealable bags and put a copy of my passport (which I always carry when traveling) in a resealable bag and put both in the netting that is immediately visible when the suitcase is opened.

5. Save my hat! I really like my sunvisor and I knew it would get crushed in my suitcase or my backpack. So, I studied the room. Where does my hat have the best possible chance of survival? I decided on the refrigerator.

6. Study the room. I stored my suitcase in the place where it could best survive. For me that was the seat in the shower which was the most interior and elevated space in the room.

7. Prepare the room as best you can. My room had a balcony overlooking the pool with glass sliding doors. I closed the black out curtains and the decorative curtains and pulled them tight. Next, I pushed all the furniture against the curtains. My hope was if the glass shattered as the wind was hurtling toward my room that the curtains might “slow” the movement of shattered glass.

8. Pack a small backpack. I always carry a foldable backpack when I travel. That pack came in handy. These are the items I stuffed in that pack: water, snacks, rain poncho, travel umbrella, washcloth, handtowel, change of clothes, hand sanitizer, the yellow waterproof bag mentioned above, and toilet paper in a resealable bag. The small backpack could be placed under my pillow in the shelter and would not take up valuable floor space. (No luggage is allowed in shelters)

9. Wear closed toe shoes. If the hurricane caused mass destruction, my feet would need protection.

10. Consider headphones. When in a shelter, one should be respectful of the people around them. We were very fortunate that 400 people in the same room were extremely respectful. They lay down on their makeshift beds, watched movies on their phones, read books, or spent time on social media. The only disturbance was the sound of a baby crying for about 10 minutes before he fell asleep.

11. Call, FaceTime, or text those you love. It was important to me to have possible final communication with the 3 people I love most in the world. I hoped I would live to see them, but if not, I needed to say I love you once last time. ( I also called upon my husband’s knowledge of buildings to ask where I should sleep in the shelter. He had an immediate answer and also told me how to best escape the storm surge if that should happen.)

12. Register with the State Department through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program – STEP. This lets the USA know your location.

13. Remember that YOU are responsible for YOU. Use your best judgement, think through possible scenarios, and do the best you can. The tips above aren’t researched nor do they have “hurricane approval”. These are things that made me feel that I was doing the best I could to protect myself in a foreign country with only a hotel room and the resources provided by the hotel.

14. Find your inner strength and do the things that keep you calm. I tend to be level headed and calm under pressure so this was not an issue for me. I prayed, I spoke with loved ones, and prepared as best I could. Then, I turned it over to a greater power than is within me. I tasked myself to share any positive news that I heard throughout the day with those around me. Others around me prayed and called upon clergy for prayers. Some fretted, worried, cried, and needed to continually talk about the impending storm. I passed no judgement. Some even chose to weather the storm with the help of a pretty little bottle. Again, no judgement from me. We all deal with a crisis in our own way.

15. Be thankful when the storm passes. I returned to a room with no broken glass, a suitcase still in the shower, snacks and water still in my backpack, my favorite hat still in the refrigerator and no need for the little yellow waterproof bag that held my valuables. Others in Mexico were not so lucky. I am thankful for the experience, thankful that the storm weakened and thankful for the true dedication of the Mexican people who fed us, kept us safe, and did it all with a smile. I am forever grateful and humbled by their dedication to the guests knowing their own families were weathering the storm alone. We were blessed.

Maybe 2020 is looking up.