Because of the location of the Yucatan Peninsula, conveniently juxtaposed between the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, it is highly probable that at some point between June and November, you will read about a hurricane alert. Those of us who live in Merida certainly appreciate the wisdom of the Mayans, who built the original city of T’ho in this same location, probably with the understanding that this inland location made it less vulnerable to the consequences of extreme weather.
Former Hurricanes in the Yucatan
In Yucatan’s recent history, there have been two hurricanes that have been quite destructive throughout the entire state: Hurricane Gilberto in September 1988 and Hurricane Isidore in September 2002.
Both of these hurricanes caused a lot of damage throughout the state, but not for everyone. There are certain types of buildings that resist hurricane damage better than others. Much also depends on exactly where the hurricane goes, and how quickly it moves through. There are many factors, not the least of which is Fate and Luck.
In the spirit of the old saying, “Trust God, but tie up your camel!”, it is wise to take as many precautions as you can before a hurricane comes to your neighborhood. Luckily, with today’s modern reporting and the information on the internet, you will never be surprised by a hurricane, but will always have two to three days in which to prepare.
Those of you who have properties in Yucatan should read carefully the following recommendations for hurricane preparation.
The Government of Yucatan State has issued a set of precautions that it encourages you to follow. Yucatan State has defined three alerts, each designated by a different color. The intensity of the alert varies according to the proximity of the hurricane to the area in question. Keep in mind that these are statewide precautions, and some of them may not apply to you or your property. For example, most of you reading this article will probably not have to worry about dead animals in your yard, though this is an important precaution in certain parts of the State.
- If you are visiting any coastal area, head to the inland cities.
- Have tools close at hand for reinforcing your home.
- Put all your important documents (passport, birth certificate, trust deed, etc.) in a plastic bag.
- If you have decided to move to a shelter, prepare light luggage. Bring a thick blanket, some clothes, shoes, food and water.
Orange Alert: Alarm
- Secure doors and windows of your house with tape or wood panels.
- Fix and tie any objects that must stay outdoors. Bring inside any loose items. Remove antennas and advertisements, flags or boards.
- Turn off the gas and secure the tanks.
- Protect your pets.
- If you are in a coastal area and you do not have a means of transportation, use the buses that the Government of the State provides for evacuation.
Red Alert: Danger
- Stay calm.
- Listen to the radio for information and instructions.
- Keep the family together in the safest place of the house, away from doors and windows; if the wind opens them, do not move towards them directly, but approach from the side.
- Unplug electrical appliances.
- Do not leave your house until the authorities announce that the situation of danger has passed.
- If you are in a shelter, do not move out until the authorities say so.
- After the hurricane, remove stagnant water to avoid diseases and cover dead animals with lime.
- Do not connect wet electrical appliances.
- Verify that any water and food are in good condition before consuming.
As natives of the Yucatan, we have lived through the two infamous hurricanes mentioned earlier, as well as numerous storms. We have prepared another “to do list” in addition to the recommendations of Yucatan State. Our precautions are geared towards helping you protect your home and yourself in the home. If you do not live here, these lists will help you with communicating to a person that you may hire before or after the hurricane hits, who can perform these functions on your behalf.
For Home or Building Owners Along the Yucatan Coast
- First of all, we would suggest that you purchase Hurricane Insurance. If your home is far enough away from the waterline and if you have a retaining wall to protect your property against hurricane surge, then you should be able to buy adequate insurance. However, we caution you that some homes built along the coast are uninsurable.
- Before the hurricane hits, leave the doors and windows in the house open. This seems counterintuitive, but it allows the water to enter and exit the house without destroying the windows and doors. At least it gives them a better chance of surviving.
- Store all the house furniture in the room of the house that is farthest from the ocean and the sand.
- Arrange for someone to visit the house as soon as possible after the hurricane to assess any damages and begin the process of cleanup. Though the threat of looting is pretty low, it is not unheard of. Also, the heat and humidity after a hurricane may do additional damage to houses left open and unattended.
For Home or Building Owners Anywhere on the Yucatan Peninsula
- Raise all electronic devices as high as possible. For example, raise your refrigerator or stove with a pile of blocks. If your kitchen floods, the water will not ruin the appliance. If you have lived through a hurricane in your house before, or even through a really strong storm, you probably have an idea of which rooms in the house are subject to flooding. In that case, you will be able to just concentrate on those rooms. If you are unfamiliar with your house, this simple precaution may save some expensive appliances. (Hint: If you are new to your neighborhood, talk to your neighbors. They will be able to tell you if flooding is a problem in the area or not. Chances are, if your house is inland and didn’t flood during Hurricane Isidore (in 2002), it probably isn’t going to flood this time either.) Luckily, most furniture in the Yucatan is built to withstand flooding. Roperos, couches and other furniture have legs and do not have draping fabric. If there is anything that is on the floor in a flood-prone room that you don’t want to get wet, put it up somewhere higher.
- Put a cross with masking tape over any large windows. If the glass breaks from the wind or pressure, the pieces will stick to the tape and the chance of flying glass will be minimized. Be sure to ask for special glass tape. Certain kinds of tape are difficult to remove from glass, which is why you see many older buildings in Merida with tape crosses on the windows. You can be sure they are left over from the last threat of hurricane.
- Secure the doors and windows of the house where you will be staying during the hurricane. If you see that a large window is bulging or under pressure from the wind, open it up and let the wind and rain in the house. Water and leaves can be removed a lot more easily than shards of broken glass.
- Purchase canned food, bread, bottles of water, candles, flash lights and batteries. If you have a generator, be sure it is running and that you have gas for it. After the hurricane, you could be without electricity for a week or two.
- Put gasoline in your vehicle(s). If you need to go somewhere during (let’s hope not!) or after the hurricane in your car, you don’t want to be searching for an open gas station.
- Get a radio with batteries so you can be informed when the hurricane is leaving and when it is safe to go outside. Because hurricanes have eyes – the calm center of the storm – you could be fooled into thinking the worst is over when, in truth, it is just about to begin again. At some point, you will lose electricity and internet access. When Hurricane Isidore was over, the only working utility for days were Telmex landlines, which only worked with standard phones that receive power from the line. In 2011, that might be different, but cell phone towers are some of the most vulnerable structures in a hurricane.
- Make sure your roof tinaco is full and that the top is tightly closed. Your tinaco will be your source of water (gravity fed) until the electricity comes back on. Also, full tinacos tend to stay on the roof, while empty tinacos tend to fly away.
- Likewise, be sure that your propane gas tank is full and well secured. It may be hard to get gas for days after the storm.
- If you have a satellite dish or minisplit air conditioning units on your roof, it is often a good idea to lay them down. Most likely they will not fly away, but the strong winds could knock them down if they are standing in their usual position. If you lay them down ahead of time, they are less likely to get damaged.
- Bring inside any outdoor furniture or small potted plants from balconies and outdoor areas. If you can’t bring them inside, secure them in some way. Heavy planters will likely survive the wind and rain, but the plants may not.
- Take down any hanging lamp fixtures outdoors that might be subject to wind damage or be knocked down by strong winds.
- Other sources of water after the hurricane may include your swimming pool. You won’t want to drink out of it, but you may use it for washing dishes or bathing.
- Put a good stock of clean and dry clothes, towels and bedding somewhere where they will not get wet during the hurricane. Because you will be doing without electricity for awhile afterwards, you will want these. If you use up everything during the hurricane, you’ll be left with a lot of wet clothes and towels afterwards, and no way to dry them.
Other Hurricane Precautions
We probably do not need to tell you that it is unsafe to walk around during a hurricane. In the Yucatan, things that might be flying through the air during a hurricane include power lines, cell phone towers, pieces of metal or plastic lamina… not to mention sticks, tree limbs and trees themselves. Get inside as the hurricane approaches and stay inside. Be sure to wait for the eye of the storm and the ensuing second half of the hurricane before venturing outside again. Unless you are in a tent, a Mayan hut or a mobile home, you are much safer inside the stone and concrete homes of Yucatan than you would be outside.
If you have questions or concerns on how to prepare for a hurricane, please feel free to comment below.
If you are not currently in Yucatan or unable to make arrangements for yourself, please contact Yucatan Expatriate Services. We can hire and coordinate the people who can secure your home in advance of the hurricane and clean it up afterwards.