VANCOUVER – When Rick Fisher and his wife travelled to Cabo San Lucas in early September he did not think he would be living through the most intense tropical cyclone to ever make landfall over the Baja Peninsula.
The Burnaby residents had never been to Cabo before, but after ruling out some other places to go on vacation, they decided on the Riu Palace near downtown Cabo.
However, shortly after arriving they heard the area may get hit by Category 4 Hurricane Odile. That storm system started to head west so the Fishers thought they were in the clear, but another major storm blocked its path and it was once again headed towards Cabo.
Fisher said up until noon on Sunday there were few indications a major hurricane was on its way. “That morning around 10 a.m. it had been ideal,” said Fisher.
The hotel staff were bringing everything indoors that wasn’t bolted down and Fisher said they were told all restaurants and bars would closed by 6 and 7 p.m. and for guests to go to their rooms after that.
“We went to our room at about 7 p.m.,” said Fisher, “and it was about a Category 1 by then, not much rain.”
The winds started to pick up later and Fisher said with the lights still on between their fourth-floor room and the beach they could see the tremendous force of the storm.
“It was astonishing how furious the winds were blowing.”
They went to bed but Fisher was woken up at 12:15 a.m. by a gurgling noise. Thinking that maybe the toilet had backed up, he went to the bathroom and there was about one to one-and-a-half inches of water on the floor. The water was coming from under the patio doors so Fisher and his wife used towels and the garbage can to bail the water from the hotel room into the bathtub.
“I wouldn’t describe it as bad, I would describe it as annoying,” he said.
The lights went out at 3 a.m. and when the couple had the flooding under control they collapsed back in bed.
When they woke up at 7 a.m. they could see the extent of the damage. “About 20 per cent of all the palm trees had been blown over, all of the tops had been damaged,” said Fisher. “The air conditioning ducting had been ripped off, there was sand everywhere.”
“It was obvious a serious storm had gone through.”
The hotel had no power, no Internet and limited mobile phone usage.
But Fisher said the staff were amazing at taking care of not only the Palace guests, but about 1,000 guests from the Riu Santa Fe next door as well.
The staff immediately worked to put together something for the guests to eat. They gave everyone a sandwich and water and Fisher said although it wasn’t much, it satisfied their hunger.
Then many of the guests got to work helping the hotel staff clean up.
“By about 1 p.m. all of the areas, around the pool and everything, had all been swept,” said Fisher. “It was remarkable.”
“We were all guests at this hotel where we expect them to do everything for us and we were all out there.”
They cleaned up the palm fronds, the sand and broken glass.
“At the Riu Santa Fe there was a sheet of glass that had been driven so hard into the earth, two guys couldn’t pull it out.”
There was some confusion as to when the Fishers would be on a plane home as the airport has been destroyed.
But Fisher said the whole time they had to wait at the hotel they felt safe and fed and the staff worked hard to make sure they were as comfortable as possible.
“On the Monday night people stayed up all night so we could have scrambled eggs in the morning,” he said. “I take my hat off to them.”
Finally on Wednesday they were told Sunwing was bringing in a plane and they had to get to the airport.
“At this point there was no phone, no power, no Internet so how they knew there was a plane coming I don’t know,” said Fisher.
But the drive to the airport was an eye-opener. They did not comprehend just how badly the storm had damaged Cabo San Lucas until they were on their way to catch their flight.
“Every block, 50 per cent of the residences had been levelled,” said Fisher, referring to the rudimentary housing. “The other 50 had been shredded. That’s thousands of people who have nowhere to go, nowhere to cook food.”
Every power and telephone pole was down, there were wires everywhere and cars were destroyed.
When they arrived at the airport the devastation was even more apparent.
“Until we got there we didn’t know how badly the airport was damaged,” said Fisher. “The brand new airport, it’s just trashed.”
It was a very hot day but finally a Sunwing plane arrived, followed by another. One plane would go to Vancouver and the other would go to Toronto. After more hours getting everyone on the flight, they finally took off to cheers and relief inside the aircraft.
“It will bounce back,” Fisher said of Cabo, adding “I’d go back in a minute.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Destruction at RIU Santa Fe (next to the Riu Palace), Los Cabos. Courtesy of Brad Lutz of Delta.