The Worst Storm In 60 Years to Hit Northern Baja

That’s what some local people are saying about the storm that hit Vicente Guerrero, Baja, Mexico with a vengeance late afternoon on Wednesday, January 27th 2010. It came from the north and hit Tijuana & Ensenada first & then east towards Tecate & Mexicali, while continuing its rampage southwards down the Baja Peninsula. We were warned that the storm was coming but many did not understand how seriously we would be affected by it; however, others quickly began preparing for its onslaught. Local stores did a booming trade as stores quickly filled with customers & shelves were emptied of food, water & other essentials. People bought as much as they could afford & then hurried home to protect their houses & families. Some were uncertain of what to do & did nothing while others were fascinated by the awesome intensity of it all. Soon, the streets emptied. At home, women cried, children were frightened & stayed close to their mothers, while worried men stood by unable to protect them adequately. Dogs barked or howled & farm animals were alarmed & restless. It was a somber & frightening experience, as people watched & worried. Many more prayed, but all waited.

Wednesday began as most days in the Baja, but the sky was filled with menacing clouds which loomed darker on the horizon. A cold wind blew & then howled throughout the day. By 6:00 p.m. its velocity increased to hurricane proportions & the rumble of thunder was heard – then the sky unleashed its torrent. Raindrops the size of hailstones rained down loud & hard, as pools of water soon overflowed the streets & sidewalks. Palm trees swayed, some were uprooted & tossed aside like matchsticks to join the mass of growing debris that filled the bodies of water that soon formed from puddles into small lakes. The storm raged throughout the night & continued on Thursday. All day & evening it rained & the winds blew hard. All night long it rained more. Friday brought some relief with brief periods of sunshine as the storm abated but the intermittent showers were heavy & frequent. By Saturday, the storm finally broke & we ventured from our homes to see for ourselves its path of destruction.

Water was everywhere – on the streets, covering sidewalks, running through homes, covering their furniture & everything else they owned. Roofs of houses & buildings were gone, gardens were washed away, trees were uprooted, garbage cans were toppled & debris was seen everywhere floating down stream throughout the town. While no loss of life was reported, many lost everything they owned. All essential services were either unavailable or seriously damaged. We were without power, water, propane, gasoline, internet & cell phone service until emergency repairs were made & some limited services restored. Water delivery by truck began by the end of the week & power was restored within a few days. It is predicted that it will be another month or more before full services will be restored completely. Some detours are making it possible for traffic on Baja’s only highway to flow while some bridges are repaired & others will be rebuilt or replaced. In the meantime we wait.

Almost immediately after the storm broke, reports from other towns & villages began to reach us. Our community was hit hard. The local orphanage reported flooding, as water entered some of the buildings & sandbagging was needed to prevent any further flooding. Strawberry fields, ready for harvest, were flooded & crops were destroyed. A total of seven bridges had been washed out – from Ensenada to El Rosario, including one of our own two bridges spanning the Santo Domingo River. Riverbanks overflowed & washed away the approaches to many bridges leaving exposed broken water & sewer pipes etc. For 3 days, we were “cut-off” and virtually isolated from the world due to lack of communication or essential services. Even the local police came to us for help. Our 4-WD pick-up truck was needed to rescue a pregnant woman & a small boy stranded on the south side of the river. They needed to return to their home in Zapata on the north side of the river. Victor’s help was requested to accompany this woman & her son in a “rescue cage” which was suspended from a cable that spanned the two bridges. It was a scary adventure for Victor & he readily admitted that he prayed all the way across the turbulent river until they landed safely on the north side. By now, the normally dry riverbed had risen to about 4 meters and in fact, reached up to the level of the bridge. One of the columns had already sunk about a meter, making a visible curve in its structure & almost immediately, the bridge was closed to all traffic. Many were caught on the wrong side of the bridge & had to be transported by cage (described earlier). Only vehicles with a 4-WD were able to traverse the distance between the two bridges & across the river bed, so most of the traffic from both north and south came to a dead halt. People were waiting in lineups & paying 200 pesos or more, to have their vehicles towed through the riverbed by caterpillar tractor, thus enabling them to return home or to go to their work places on either side of the river. In the meantime, a “ramp” was built between the two bridges to enable cars & other lighter vehicles to cross through the river bed to connect to the second bridge which was not damaged. For days, the main street of Vicente Guerrero was filled with long lineups of semi-trailer trucks waiting for similar detours to be constructed so they could continue delivering their cargo of food & other essential supplies to people on either side of the Baja.

Once the ramp was built, traffic resumed & the Chief of Police for Camalu, came to us for our assistance to feed 300 destitute people in that area. Our response was immediate and within the hour, huge vats of soup were boiling, (using dehydrated vegetable soup mix donated to EFF by the Okanagan Gleaners in Oliver, B.C. Canada, as our base) & piles of tortillas were made ready for the trip by 4 x 4 truck. The community was hit hard & we saw much devastation. Water ran freely through some homes & women cried as they watched their entire flock of chickens & turkeys being carried away in the torrent. We wept & prayed with them, then fed them the hot soup we brought & stayed until DIF (a human welfare agency) arrived to take these destitute folk to the Camalu Town Hall where emergency food & shelter was provided. The army arrived later with a hot meal & a promise to return with more provisions the following day. We brought extra soup for emergency rations & saw a truckload of blankets, cardboard & cases of drinking water arrive from Ensenada. Tractors & heavy equipment were making the roads passable but progress was slow as men & machinery became stuck in the miry sea of water & mud.

The following day, we went into the mountainous village of Hacienda Sinaloa, where we met an elderly man who had lived there many years & knew the needs of that community. He assessed the areas of greatest need earlier & went with us to deliver food & supplies to ones most affected by the storm. The viciousness of the storm brought down rocks & debris from the hills & made a river of the roads & streets of the village. It was a chaotic scene, but Mexicans are innovative & some took advantage of the ready supply of running water. We saw women were doing their laundry on the rocks, while other folk were bathing their children & themselves. We continued on to a ranch later that day, where people had left during the height of the storm but now had returned to their houses. Much damage was evident & still in progress, as we saw water gushing through houses & people frantically trying to recover their possessions. Most folk were doing their best to resume their lives and re-build what was left of the wreckage. I knew most of these people as children when they lived in a camp with their families 15 years ago. Now they are adults with families of their own & it was a bittersweet reunion for me – I was happy to see them again but so sorry to see what happened to their homes. In spite of their great loss, they were smiling & thankful for the help we were able to give them. We will return to this community again within a week with more provisions which will arrive from California within a few days.
This Sunday, January 31st, we travelled south about 20 miles to the village of Papalotea. We saw toppled building surrounded by lots of water still. Roads are passable but very rough & rutted. At Los Pinos, traffic was held up due to the fact that part of the highway was washed away & bulldozers were repairing & stabilizing the highway. On Tuesday, February 2nd, we visited the nearby village of San Francisco & found half of the camp under water. Roofs were missing & many shelters were destroyed – we brought tarps & food to provide some immediate assistance. Many are still in dire need. Every day we have news of yet another need as we try to stretch our limited supplies & resources. We urgently appeal to you for your help by supplying materials, money & your prayers for these unfortunate& destitute people. The most urgent need is for tarps, blankets & quilts, food (powdered milk & peanut butter) & candles. If you are sending money, please send it to:

Geoff & Lorraine Hett, Directors of the Erma Fennell Foundation
2833 Lake End Road, Victoria, B.C., V9B 2W2 Phone: 250-478-2727,
OR, send donated items only to:
Erma Fennell Foundation
Box 8010
Chula Vista, CA, USA
91910

You can contact me directly at:
Onthewingsofangels@hotmail.com Phone: 011-52-616-166-311
https://ermafennell.wordpress.com/ The New Website!!!

We covet your prayers & ask you to uphold us daily as we attempt to respond to many requests for help. Often it becomes a choice of the neediest of the needy receiving what little we have to offer. May God lead you & give you the wisdom you need in your decision to help in whatever way you can.

In His Glorious Service,
Erma Fennell

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