Sea Star 7

1998 Bayliner LeClercq

Check "survived a hurricane" off the bucket list

Two days ago a hurricane warning was issued for our area.  We were like “yeah whatever” because we live in a hurricane hole.  Meaning that hurricanes very very rarely hit our area because of the mountains just south of us.  They push hurricanes around to the north such that they almost always miss Puerto Vallarta.  The last one to hit Puerto Vallarta square on was 20 years ago.

But as time passed, the prediction for the hurricane’s path got increasingly worrysome.  This is what it looked like 12 hours prior to the storm’s arrival.  We had 60% odds of it hitting us.  And along the way it became a category 4.  A category 4 means at least 130 mph winds and a certainty that “Catastrophic damage will occur: Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”  So yeah.  Kinda scary.  Ok, yeah maybe a lot scary.

We debated what to do.  No evaucation orders were given.  The locals were still out surfing as the winds started to kick up and the sun was going down and the storm was only hours away.  Dave wanted to stay in the condo and ensure that the drains stayed uncloged to protect against damage.  Why Dave cared about this will be clear shortly.  Melissa wanted to run for the hills.  We debated making reservations at a hotel in Puerto Vallarta because Puerto Vallarta was further out of the hurricane’s likely path.  But that might make it hard to get back if the road was closed due to downed trees – making it hard to clean up the damage.  So we decided to make a reservation at the hotel across the street from our condo.  I know, that doesn’t sound like much – but the place is built like a concrete bunker, has no windows on the windward side (unlike the walls of glass in our condo), and is 33 feet higher up the hill than our building and hence no chance of storm surge taking out their foundation – which is what we were worried about at our place.  We also had the offer to stay at a friend’s penthouse a couple of miles from us but more inland where the storm surge wouldn’t be an issue.

We went to dinner.  Yeah.  I know, sounds bizzare.  But there really wasn’t anything else to do.  We had prepped our place as best we could – putting down towels around all the sliding glass doors where we know water comes in.  We taped up some of the windows.  Hurricanes are so rare here that no one has wood to board up the windows.  So here we are with a hurricane headed our way, and we decide on dinner with friends.

After dinner we headed back to our place and decided to wait until the 10pm NOAA forecast update – the last we would get before the storm hit to make the final decision on where to be.  And we decided to go for the hotel across the street as we were fairly certain by then that the hurricane was going to miss us and we were going to have tropical storm force winds (best guess is that we saw 60 mph winds that night).  This turned out to be a good call for a number of reasons.  First one of the penthouses similar to that of our friends had the roof blow off.  Second, at our condo, there were numerous ceramic roof tiles that had blown off the roof and smashed themsevles everywhere.  It would have been dangerous for Dave to have been out on our roof deck trying to keep the drains clear.  Ultimately the hurricane came ashore as a Category 3 and missed us by 25 miles.

Dave mostly slept through the night.  Melissa awoke at 3am when the storm started to hit in earnest.  The wind just howled all night.  She would peek through the curtain and see that the trees were bent sideways.  You could hear things banging around as they went down the street.  At one point the hotel’s garage door – a giant iron door welded to the hinges – blew clean off and right into the car parked next to it.  We lost power and phones at 4am.

The looting started before daybreak.  The hotel’s generator and tools were missing from their garage before we were up at first light.  They found the generator a block away – apparently having been too heavy for the thieves to carry.

In the morning at first light we went out to find that our building was still standing.  We walked down to the beach to first make sure that the storm surge hadn’t damaged the foundation.  The water was right up to our building’s sea wall.  This is unusual – as normally the surf stays 25 feet or so from our place.  But the wall was solid and while there was some cosmetic damage – nothing major.  You can see in this picture all the trash that was washed up in the storm.

We went into the condo building from the beach and walked up the steps to our top floor unit checking along the way for damage.  A few minor things – roof tiles smashed everywhere.  One roof tile smashed down through the garage roof (which is plastic tiles) landing on a neighbors car.

The palapa in the main lobby has a bit of damage but nothing major.

But then we unlocked the door to our unit to be greeted with the sound of a waterfall.

All our efforts to lay down those towels so the water couldn’t get in had totally backfired.  Instead of trapping the water out, it trapped the water in.  On our upper deck, the drains clogged (not uncommon in the summer rainy season).  This forced water into the upper floor of our unit.  Note that this picture was taken about 10 minutes or so after Dave started clearing the drains so the water could escape.

This resulted in two inches of water on the upper floor.  Which in turn drained down the stairs to the lower floor.  It might have started to escape through the lower deck drains which stayed clear (no debris on the lower deck) but for the fact that we had dammed that all up with towels so it couldn't flow out to the deck.  So the lower floor filled with 2 inches of water too.  Dave estimates there were 3000 gallons of water in our unit all total.  No that wasn’t a typo.

Three hours of sweeping water out of the unit.  Irving (our handyman), and his wife, along with Arturo the night watchmen all showed up to help.  By noon our unit was damp but back to normal.  Irving and I went on a tour of all 8 units looking for damage or other issues, but most were pretty minor.  All but one had some water that came in – but think amounts of water that can be mopped up not swimming pool.  So amazingly the whole complex was back to normal by early afternoon.

Except that we have no power.  In a stroke of luck - because we are headed to Africa in a few days... I had packed a whole duffel bag full of supplies for a local hospital there - including solar powered USB chargers and lights that we intended to donate. We broke them out and charged up our phones – which were back to working - as well as everyone at the hotel across the street where we stayed last night.  Might have to order some to keep for ourselves for the long run after we pack them back up to donate in Africa.

Biggest issue that remains is when the power will come back on.  Yesterday before the storm, I put bowls of ice cubes in the freezers so that we would know if they melted – and hence that the food in them was then suspect.  We do this when we leave for the summer season back in Seattle too.  It’s a handy indicator of when a freezer has melted and refrozen.  The power came back at about 7pm - 15 hours after it had gone out.  The fridge and freezer food all survived!

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