"Wilma" in Cozumel

If you can imagine listening to sustained winds of 150mph for hours on end, then you can imagine what a Cat4 (it was 7mph shy of a Cat5) hurricane traveling at 1 mph would be like. For the people and tourists in Cozumel and Cancun, well, we lived it.
Our refuge during the storm.

The storm went from tropical storm to cat2 to cat5 in a matter of hours and slowly headed for the Yucatan Peninsula. By the time we realized how powerful it had become (We were on our honeymoon. Of course, we weren't watching the news.), all flights from Cozumel were full. Rather than risk getting caught among the thousands of tourists on the mainland, we chose to stay put.

Our hotel, the Fiesta Americana Dive Resort, had a large restaurant on the third floor overlooking the lobby in the center of the hotel. The wall of windows on one wall were boarded up and some tall doors on the opposite side were nailed shut. And lounge chair mats were laid out for us in neat rows on the floor. This room was to be our refuge during the storm. We were asked to be in this room by 7pm Thursday night. There were just over 60 guests in this room with us. Two other smaller rooms also contained guests. We hunkered down on our little mats expecting to be there for the night. No one imagined we would be there for longer than 24 hours.

We were told the government would shut power off as the storm got stronger which they did. The hotel generator kicked in as that happened and ran for most of the night at which time we were plunged into darkness for most of the rest of our stay. As the storm got stronger, the doors on the window wall
started to push inward. There had been no real effort to secure these doors outside of the plywood on the outside and a two piece hutch pushed up against them on the inside. The plywood had blown off and the force of the wind was pushing the doors into the hutch which created a good sized gap for the water to blow in as well. It was the guests who took action. After attempts to brace the hutch against the doors failed, a number of guys ended up taking turns leaning up against the hutch to keep it back. This went on for two days! Water was bailed into 30 gallon trash cans. At one point these cans were filling up every 10 minutes. Eventually the bailing water and water others had collected from the stairwell just outside the room was used to flush the toilets which were getting to be pretty bad.

There was one tense moment on the second day when the winds got stronger as the eye approached. It was taking more than just a couple guys to hold the hutch against the doors and more plywood had blown away from another window. While the men tried to do what they could, the women and children were rushed to a lower level. As we descended the stairs, a stream of water was rushing down with us. None of us was too sure this was a good idea. We were taken to the laundry room of the hotel which to our relief was completely dry. The eye wall passed (we actually missed the eye by a few miles), and it was safer for us all to return to the restaurant. All night the wind howled as it had the past 24 hours. Most of us did not sleep even though we were thoroughly exhausted.

By Saturday afternoon "Wilma" seemed to be moving on. The winds had died down enough for us to start venturing out to our rooms mostly to see what damage had been done. The hotel is a long narrow building. The rooms are accessible by way of open walkways along the back of the building. Each room had a patio door opening out to a balcony on the other side. These faced the ocean. And they all had tile floors. Now we know why. There were only minor problems with most of the rooms. The air conditioners had blown in. They were easily shoved back into place. But the open gaps caused minor flooding. We all took turns squeeging the water out. And a towel around the air units helped keep more of the rain out. There were only a couple of patio windows that actually broke. Mostly the problem was the frames giving way. Our frame was rattling quite a bit. So, Chris "borrowed" one of the pieces of wood used to shade the walkway light outside of our room to brace the door frame against the wooden valance. It worked. We also left the entrance door open to relieve the pressure in the room.

Since our rooms were in good shape and the winds had died down, all the guests decided to spend Saturday night in the rooms. This seemed like a good idea. The wind got stronger about the time we'd settled in for the night and continued much stronger all night long. Apparently "Wilma" liked the area too because she decided to sit, unmoving for the next 12 hours or so. The wind had gotten so much stronger we thought it might have been bouncing back our way! But by Sunday afternoon, she started to move on.

Before as Wilma started to move in
and After

We all took walks up and down the now washed out, impassible road in front of the hotel. The destruction was amazing.
Where there had been thick jungle, there were now sticks of leafless, barkless trees.

and After

Tall re-enforced concrete utility poles were lying in tangled heaps. The beaches had returned to their natural rock-coral, sand less state. And many of the little tourist huts were gone or lying in piles in the middle of the road.
The dolphin pool at the beach park down the road had completely disappeared. We were told the dolphins had been moved to a safer(?) place.

Sunday night was a much more peaceful one, and the sun was shining Monday morning when we spotted ferries crossing over to the island. There had been a number of helicopters flying over all Sunday afternoon surveying the damage. But the sight of ferries was a more hopeful sign.

Page 2 The Escape