When family travel meets natural disaster
Guest posts aren’t a typical occurrence on this blog. Sometimes, however, circumstances warrant them. Like when natural disasters impact family travel. And when people you love bear the brunt.
Such was the case earlier this month, when our friends and neighbors, Dave and Laurie Hagele, were stranded with their (4- and 2-year-old) kids in Los Cabos, Mexico, due to the aftermath of Hurricane Odile. For the first few days of the experience, Dave and Laurie stayed remarkably positive, taking things (at the Pueblo Bonito Rose Resort) as they came, and embracing the perspective that their problems weren’t nearly as bad as they could have been. Then, on Thursday, the day the Hageles were evacuated, shit got real.
What follows here is a Facebook note Dave wrote Thursday night, after he and his loved ones returned to California, to their beautiful house across the street. I have reprinted it with his permission, and it appears in its entirety, with very minimal edits. Needless to say, we are happy/relieved/thankful our friends are home safe.
On Wednesday around 5:00 p.m., the hotel gathered all the guests into the lobby for an update. They had arranged for busses to take us to the airport at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. (they had 560 guests in the hotel). They were going to provide us with a box lunch, we’ll head to the Best Western by the airport where we’ll be handed over to the government officials who will ask where we’re going (US or Mexico). We left the meeting staying positive, telling ourselves to expect a long day, but “Hey! This is a once in a lifetime adventure!”
Then it got dark. Our hotel had a generator so we had some electricity, hot showers, etc., but when I looked out from our 6th floor hallway towards town, it was pitch black…and smelled like smoke. That’s when I started to get scared. All the stores had been looted of groceries, there was no water, food, gas, etc. in town and our hotel is lit up like a Christmas tree on the ocean. There were two big bonfires…one outside our gate and one at the entrance to the hotel from the beach to keep away looters from the resort and help the guards see. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much Wednesday night.
Thursday morning, we got up early, showered, ate breakfast and started packing to leave. We left a suitcase with children’s clothing, shoes, toys, etc. to donate to the staff. Charlotte even gave one of the staff members little 9 month old girl her Purplicious book The hotel next to us (same owners as ours) began evacuations at 6:00 a.m. All the staff lined the drive way waiving white towels (some crying) sending the guests on their way…knowing there goes their jobs.
At 10 a.m. we boarded a small bus with everyone’s luggage in the isle. It was a little muggy & hot, but once we started moving, the breeze was nice. We received the same send off from the staff and it was very emotional leaving them behind. As we exited the gates and started up the highway, the true impact of the devastation was felt. We were lucky…hotels were demolished, all power poles were down, roofs blown off and palm trees snapped in half. We passed a couple of gas stations with lines of cars stretching miles long waiting for gas. We get to San Jose Del Cabo and the supermarket there was looted, everything was thrashed and people were holding their cell phones up trying to get a signal.
We then turn towards the airport. At this point, Jackson had already peed through his diaper onto Laurie’s lap (thank you Mexican diapers), but we weren’t worried since we would be at the Best Western, we can change him, freshen up and get ready to get our assignment for the flight out.
Then we see the airport. It looked like it had been bombed…then we start to see a line of people…6-8 deep, about a mile long…I’m thinking, wow, I’m glad we’re not in that line! We weren’t. The bus stopped and told everyone to get out, then left. Our line was the other line about a mile long. We’ve never felt more helpless and scared in our lives. Laurie started sobbing and there was nothing I could do to fix it. We couldn’t go back to the hotel, we basically were dumped into the crowd to fend for ourselves. There was no water, no food, no cell service and we were standing in the blazing Cabo sun with barely any breeze. The “Best Western”, looked like a car bomb had exploded outside. There was a shaded overhang so we were able to get Laurie, [my mother-in-law, Cindy] and the kids there while I went back to take my place in line with everyone else. It was 11:00 a.m.
I finally made it to the back of the line. At around 1:30 p.m., the line finally moved after the first of the rescue planes started arriving (they were letting 100 people at a time through to the airport). Through out the day, Laurie & I would switch standing in line and checking on the kids…walking the distance of the snaking line multiple times. They weren’t allowing any family or kids to go ahead, but at least they were in the shade…granted, there was vomit everywhere, sheetrock, glass & general filth, but they were shaded. Considering the circumstances, the kids did pretty well. Everyone was sharing their toys and any food or snacks they had. Around 3:30 p.m. Laurie came back to tell me that Charlotte wasn’t drinking any water, was turning pale and said her “tummy hurts”…I went up to check on her while Laurie stayed with the bags. Cindy said the guard had just made an announcement they were going to start taking the elderly & families. I confirmed with him when I got there, said my wife was back in the line and he said, “Go get her now”.
I ran back, got Laurie and we booked it to the shaded area. After about 10 minutes, they started moving the families & elderly into a line. We stood in that line for another 10 minutes before they said “go go go” and we then started walking, dragging our luggage and tired kids, along with everyone else to the “boarding area”. There, for the next 45 minutes, we filled out forms indicating names, passport number, flight we came in on, etc. and waited. We didn’t know if we were going to Phoenix or LAX. A guy comes in and yells, “4 seats to LAX!” and we pounced. We then went back into the sun onto the tarmac about 4 planes down where a Southwest Airlines crew was waiting to take our bags, forms, etc. They had an ice chest with cans of water and it tasted SOOOOO good! I sat with the kids on the tarmac in the shade of the plane while Laurie dealt with the forms. By then, Charlotte was feeling better, which was a relief.
Once they said we could board, Laurie started sobbing and the flight attendant gave her a big hug and said, “It’s o.k. sweetie…we’ll get you home”.
Cindy, Laurie & Charlotte each had a seat and I had a seat in the back of the plane with Jackson on my lap…as the plan started taxing down the runway, I looked out and say numerous planes lined up to bring in supplies and take people out. As soon as the plan lifted off, I hugged Jackson really hard and I totally lost it and started sobbing…then he peed his pants and I was soaked…thank you Mexican diapers…it was around 5:00 p.m.
The flight had food, ice cold drinks and a very friendly staff. We landed in LAX around 6:00 p.m. and breezed through customs. I was able to get us on the LAX – Santa Rosa flight leaving at 7:55 p.m., which gave us time to eat a real meal, get settled a bit and change the kids into their jammies…both kids crashed out the second the plane took off. When we landed in Santa Rosa round 9:20, I lost it again.
Laurie & I always try to live by the motto, “There are a lot of people that would trade their problems for ours”. I think that group would be a much smaller group for this one. I would not wish yesterday on anyone and couldn’t help thinking about the people I stood in line with for 5 hours that were left in the sun while we got out.
We are so grateful to be home…safe. Our thoughts are with the staff who sent us on our way and everyone left in Cabo.