September 7, 2009

Punto Chivato and Mulege after Hurricane Jimena

Yesterday Esperando and I drove to Punto Chivato to meet up with Jack McCormick of Baja Bush Pilots who is organizing an airlift of clothing, medicines and other items to be brought in for needy residents of Mulege and Santa Rosalia. He had done a fly over of the peninsula for the last several days and thought that from the air these communities seemed the hardest hit and had the least access to goods and services.

The road into Punto Chivato doesn’t exist anymore in a recognizable form; it has been completely washed out. People are getting in and out to the highway in 4x4s. The arroyos brought so much water through that the road has been replaced with boulders, cactus and sand. The new road, a bare discernable track established by the first brave people who decided to leave after the storm, winds around obstacles, goes up and down and is very jarring to drive on. It took us two hours to drive to Punto Chivato; it used to take an hour. When we got to Punto Chivato the landscape appeared untouched. Some of the homes had damage, but much of it wasn’t discernable from the road. We off-loaded about 50 baby kits from Jack’s plane that were provided by the Red Cross. Jack has a container load of care packages that Walmart has donated which consist of food enough for a family of four for a week: beans, rice and oil.

Next we drove Jack north up the highway to see if the Palo Verde airport (40 minutes from Santa Rosalia) would be accessible for his airlift. From the air the taxiway looks good, but access from the highway has washed away leaving a riverbed of boulders in its wake. Driving up and down the highway one observes the many downed power poles and ripped out piping for Santa Rosalia’s water system and the electrical feed to Mulege. It will take a massive effort to restore these, it won’t be anytime soon. In the meantime we noticed a lot of potable water treatment units arriving in town delivered by the water company and electrical generators by the electric company. These Mexican agencies are responding extremely well to this crisis and deserve 5 gold stars.

We turned back around to take Jack south to see what the airport was like in Mulege at Don Johnson’s La Serenidad Hotel. When he flew over it looked like a lot of water was standing there. Mulege is in a shambles, mud and water flooded the downtown and went through many of the homes that were not up on the hillsides. The bridge was broached by 2-3 meters of water at the high point. Lots of downed palm trees. The Oasis and Orchard housing developments and the Mexican homes on the opposite side of the river are pretty much devastated and the road along side the river to them has washed out. It makes me sick.

The Serenidad had major water and mud damage and they were slopping it out, using water from the swimming pool to help wash away the mud. The runway that from the air looked wet was actually covered with a fine layer of whitish sand that had appeared to be water. In fact with a little grading the runway should be fine and should be dried enough in a day or two; Jack was hopeful he could land there with his squad of angels in airplanes.

We drove back to Santa Rosalia and showed Jack how badly it had fared. We invited him to stay for dinner, but he was eager to get back to his plane where all of his clothes and ditty bag were. So Esperando loaned him one of the mine’s 4x4 trucks so he would have ground transportation back to the plane, and then back to Mulege so he could start organizing his airlift operations. Tomorrow we are flying back to the US for 10 days. We will be one less set of people eating up the food and drinking the water that others are needing now.

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